New smartphones? Lots of reasons not to bother

Smartphones and other "cool" gadgets may have killed off what came before them, but now they are starting to show their age.

The biggest technology story of the past week — the week of the Consumer Electronics Show — didn’t come out of Las Vegas. The big news? Those visible cracks in Apple, which doesn’t exhibit at CES.

Apple’s Las Vegas presence was merely a giant billboard with the words, “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” The words don’t tout product. Instead, they contrast the way Apple treats personal information compared to, say, Google or Facebook.

Looking at CNET’s top gadget gallery, I saw few things I’d want to own. Lots of yawners. Even the term “cool gadget” seems tattered. One exception was a motorcycle-helmet mounted GPS system. I’d consider that. And maybe the electric Harley. Though maybe not at 30 grand.

But a $1,500 Kitchen-aid cooker-processor? At my house, we don’t even use the $29 pressure cooker still new in the box after years. Thirty years ago I might’ve considered the Bluetooth gadget you stick onto a baby’s diaper to alert your smartphone when it’s time for a change. No more pulling and sniffing.

When Apple earlier disappointed investment analysts with bad numbers on revenues and iPhone sales, the company lost a third of its market value. Apple blamed demand in China. There’s some validity to that explanation. Samsung is also having trouble in China. But what do these companies expect when manufacturing and competing in a country with no sense of intellectual property rights and a thriving industry of knock-off producers?

Truth is, iPhones aren’t doing so hot here either. Not relative to what they have done. When the iPhone first came out in 2007, it revolutionized computing and communications. Not because it was first at anything, but because of the way it integrated existing technologies with outstanding software. But somewhere in the last generation of iPhones — two years ago? — the pace of innovation slowed. Yet the darn things still cost $750 or a grand. Plus all the new junk you’ve got to get to go with it.

Worse, the more Apple and its competitors lard on features and change usability, the less inclined people are to switch. I’m still using an iPhone 6. It’s four and a half years old. I can figure out a new phone and move all the data. But I don’t feel like it. And I like the old fashioned headphone jack.

Now Apple is scrambling, It’s reportedly working on three new models to rush out. Two cameras on this side, three on that side. Blah blah blah. The race to add features and functions, at least in smartphones, has added price and complexity without a concomitant increase in value or utility. Plus, in my personal view, the software coding for mobile devices and apps has gotten sloppier over the years. Everything seems buggier now. Each app upgrade brings more features and confusing interfaces most people didn’t want.

This plays well with federal mobile device users. A fairly conservative lot, device-wise, feds were the last clingers onto of Blackberries. Now there’s even more reason to hang onto whatever model you’ve got and save your agency some money.

Tech prognosticators are trying to think up what the next revolutionary communications device will look like. Maybe it won’t be a single device. Maybe comms will be more of an internet-of-things phenomenon. Maybe it will put single function talking devices back into vogue.

A hilarious video reproduced all over shows two 17-year-old cousins trying to complete a challenge their dad/uncle videotaped. Namely, dialing a number on a rotary phone. I still keep a rotary phone in my home office. It sits there for show. Fact is rotary phones mostly don’t work on modern landlines.

Automation of smartphones won’t bring back rotary phones or phone booths. But the every year-or-two phone upgrade cycle is definitely waning.


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