National / News / April 29, 2010

Smartphones or stupidphones: The new cellular

Cell phone companies want you to ignore your family, friends, girlfriend, and job so you can surf the web on your new smartphone, or so Verizon’s newest ad campaign says, and more people seem to be buying into their shtick.

Between BlackBerrys, the Palm Pre, iPhones, and various phones running some variety of Google’s Android operating system, smartphones are becoming dominant in the U.S. cellular market and a pervasive part of daily life.

According to the marketing research company comScore, 45.4 million of the nation’s 234 million cell phone users had a smartphone, or roughly a fifth of those people. Moreover, it is predicted that 60 percent of new phones sold in 2014 will be smartphones.

Clearly, these new gadgets are not going anywhere. However, we must ask ourselves, are they actually smart, or is the whole thing really a bit stupid?

Earlier this month, the tech website Gizmodo got their hands on the next generation iPhone, slated to be released by Apple this summer. The phone was lost in a bar by a former (one can assume) Apple employee who was carrying the prototype with him. The phone was inside of a case disguising it as an earlier generation of iPhone to prevent it from being readily identified as the new iPhone. The finder eventually brought the phone to Gizmodo and allowed them to examine it for $5,000.

The guys at Gizmodo, although they were not able to get past the startup screen to examine the phone’s operating system, confirmed that the case was a smaller size, it had a camera for video conferencing, a flash, and different volume control buttons as well as a larger battery, among other features. While the geek world was certainly fascinated by the news about the new iPhone, none of this immediately seems like it would be earth-shattering news.

Apple, however, seems to feel quite differently. According to Wired.com, individuals saying that they represent Apple had succeeded in identifying the address of the individual who found the missing phone and showed up at his home asking to search it.

Furthermore, the San Mateo police have seized the computers of the Gizmodo writer who examined the new iPhone, an action which appears to be illegal and Gizmodo is fighting. Of course, it seems relatively safe to assume that Apple is worried about the secrets of their new product getting out (moreso than they already are), and giving their competition an advantage against them. Is it really worth it, though?

Gizmodo has returned the phone to Apple, yet the company, on the steering committee of the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team, which raided the journalist’s house, is on the warpath. The iPhone is a huge product for Apple, and they are, perhaps justifiably, treating this as a major breach in company security. All of this is only important, though, because of the growing place of the iPhone and smart phones, as a whole, in society.

Verizon Wireless’ new ad campaign, most visible on the video-streaming website Hulu.com, shows people at work, on vacation with their family, riding horses on the beach. Every person in the ad is surfing the web, checking e-mail and Facebook, on their phone.

The ad even comes with an obnoxious jingle telling the viewer that this is the good life. It contains the lines: “watch YouTube on a horse, download stupid stuff much better.” And apparently we, the consumers, are supposed to want to pay money to be distracted while riding a white stallion with our wives and husbands and while camping out in the great outdoors.

Certainly there is an appeal to always being able to check your e-mail, to being able to look up that random fact whenever you need it, but this also constitutes a distraction, even without all of the more normal phone activities like talking or texting. What role should a machine, which is capable of always keeping us connected, play in our lives? Maybe people should try to make a little more room in their lives to not be distracted by stupid stuff. A lot of Knox students would probably benefit from that. And where are we when a company can manipulate law enforcement against the average citizen?

Ben Reeves


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