The Smartphone is Dead. Long Live the Smartphone. (And what's next)

Samsung Galaxy S II X
So last night, we were leaving the pool after the Dude's diving class and this teenager passes in front of me and says, "Wait, Mom. I need to give her my texting number!"

And my head exploded.
Why?
I'll let that sink in for a moment.
Texting number.
Texting number.

Yeah, not only are kids not using their phones to call each other but now they don't even refer to their phone numbers as phone numbers anymore. They're texting numbers. Numbers given with the sole intent of SMS-ing.

The behaviour doesn't surprise me: Any tech pundit, Nielsen report or follower of any news anywhere might be able to cite this as a growing trend. I have a huge-normous data plan and an eensy-weensy amount of minutes. And that works for me. I text the babysitter, my colleagues, my friends. I tweet at pretty much anyone else. And I inevitably sigh when I get back to my desk after a meeting and there is a voicemail. Even in our family, hubby and I don't call each other. We never have. I've mentioned this before: he works in hospitality and you just don't take phone calls when you're in front of a client. And so that's never been our thing; we've never ever called each other during the work day unless there is some emergency that includes the Dude and a hospital.

But I still refer to a phone number as a phone number.

It takes a whole different mindset to actually look at a phone and only see a computer. A device that may never get held up to one's ear. Think about that for a second. But now, that's what people want, isn't it? We loathe answering the phone. We give it side-eye when it rings. (You know you do!)

That Nielsen report I cited earlier states that the most important feature on a teen's phone is a keyboard. Although they still spend upwards of 10 hours a month chatting, that activity is on the decline in favour of texting. Here's the part that is most striking:
The undeniable area of growth is in data usage. 94 percent of teen subscribers self-identify as advanced data users, turning to their cellphones for messaging, Internet, multimedia, gaming, and other activities like downloads. While teen usage does not reach levels of activity seen by young adults, it has increased substantially versus Q2 last year, from 14 MB to 62 MB. This fourfold increase is the largest jump among all age groups. Much of this boost is led by males, who are more gadget-savvy and consume 75 MB of data, versus 17 MB in Q2 last year. Teen females use about 53 MB of data, compared to 11 MB a year ago.
A rise from 11 to 53 MB of data in a year. The phone part of the phone is definitely on the decline, and it's just a matter of time before it is truly dead. A whole new family of devices will be needed that don't have any phone capabilities whatsoever.

Mobile phone technology started with brick phones in the 80s, then cel phones, then feature phones and now smartphones. And in between were phone-less devices like the iPod Touch. That market segment always confused me. In fact, the first time I saw one, I honestly asked, "It's not a phone? So you can't call on it? What's the point?" I just couldn't understand why someone would spend so much money for a device that could only be used on wifi and that couldn't even make a phone call. It never occurred to me that someone might be happy to use a pocket computer merely for going online, consuming content and sending messages to other people, including via SMS.

So will the next generation of smartphones actually ship devoid of phone functionality? I mean if you really want to call someone and you have a gigantic data plan, you could just download an IP phone app and call them over the web, right? (Hello, Skype?)

And so that begs the question: what will we call these phone-less phones? If a hybrid tablet and phone is a (wait for it) phablet, what's a smartphone with no phone? Technically, they're tablets, just smaller. Right now, devices such as the iPod Touch and the Samsung Galaxy Player are categorized as portable media players, but that focuses on the content consumption side of things. Personally, I generate a lot of content on my phone: tweeting, Facebooking, updating my blog, writing emails, Evernoting all the things. I don't want a player of any sort. And I certainly wouldn't be looking for my next device in a player section of any store.

So what do you think? What new consumer term will be given to the inevitable rise of phone-less smartphones geared to consumers who are content producers? Pocket tablet? Pockblet? Textblet? (Honestly, anything's possible after the hot mess that is "phablet".) Take your best shot in the comments or via the Twitters @spydergrrl.

Just don't phone it in ;)

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