A Dozen Devices the iPhone Is Killing

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

It’s very much old news to point out that the Internet has been disruptive (often, destructive) to many previously thriving industries. As I noted in 2007, the Internet has decimated the market for reference books, printed maps, CD sales, the entire newspaper industry, and various categories of retail stores (most recently evidenced by this year’s bankruptcies of Borders and Blockbuster). And that’s just for starters.

As impressive as this Internet assault is, there’s another equally destructive force attacking soon-to-be obsolete technologies. I’m talking about the category 5 tornado known as smartphones, especially the iPhone.

I first wrote about the iPhone as “everything in your pocket” in 2008. The situation today has gotten worse…much worse (or much better, depending upon where you sit).

Case in point: this week’s far-from-shocking announcement that Cisco is “killing” the once über-popular Flip video camcorder. It was only a couple of year’s ago that New York Times columnist David Pogue hailed the Flip as “one of the most significant electronics products of the year,” praising the Flip for its simple “Zen” approach to a too-often too-complicated task. My, how fast times can change.

I was a bit surprised that Cisco (which had just acquired Flip for $590 million in 2009) does not intend to sell Flip to a smaller company, one that might be better able to recapture the product’s past glory. After all, the Flip is still selling reasonably well (at least according to what I have read). But otherwise, the Flip’s fate was something I had anticipated for quite awhile. Why? You already know the answer: the iPhone.

Not only can the iPhone 4 record HD video, with a quality comparable (or even superior) to what you can get from a Flip…but you can edit and share your videos more easily with an iPhone. Add iMovie to your iPhone and you can edit video using a wealth of features that Flip can only dream about. When done, you can directly share your iPhone video via MMS or email — or you can wirelessly send video to YouTube or MobileMe.

At the same time, the Flip has been hurt by the fact that virtually all point-and-shoot cameras today have video capability—one that, yet again, meets or exceeds the quality of the Flip. The Flip was getting squeezed from both ends. There was no room left where it could stand alone.

As a result, even if the Flip were free, it would be in trouble. Why bother with the “extra baggage” of a Flip (assuming you even remember to take it with you), when you already have something superior that you always carry around? True, not everyone who wants a video camera owns a smartphone yet and some people (my wife is in this group) prefer to keep their technologies in separate hardware. But these groups are not large enough for the Flip to thrive.

Wait! This is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are other Titanics heading in the iceberg’s direction. Here’s a look at the various “pocketable” hardware that the iPhone (together with other smartphones) will either kill or at least seriously harm:

Handheld GPS devices. GPS apps for the iPhone now equal or outperform what you get with handheld GPS devices, such as the popular Garmin nüvi Series. There is a slight advantage to having a separate GPS unit. For one thing, it can remain in your car as its “default” location, mimicking the functionality of an in-dash unit. With an iPhone, you have to remount it each time you get behind the wheel. Still, for many people, this is an acceptable compromise. I gave away my Garmin last year…and have been happy with using Navigon on my iPhone.

The biggest advantage of going just with the iPhone is the same one as in all of the instances noted here: It’s one less product to buy, one less device to keep updating, and one less piece of hardware to stick in your pocket.

Portable game players. Nintendo and Sony are not throwing in the towel yet. The Nintendo 3DS shows that Nintendo still has a few tricks up its sleeves. It won’t matter. Most iPhone (as well as iPod touch and iPad users) owners are content with the games available from the App Store. Given that App Store games are cheaper, more plentiful, and easier to obtain than ones for Sony and Nintendo devices, it’s an easy call to say “No thanks” to yet another device.

MP3 players. We’re so used to using iPhones as iPods, we’ve probably forgotten that without the iPhone’s iPod app, we’d need a separate MP3 player to listen to our music.

Portable DVD players. These were never exactly a hot item. Still, with the ease of renting/buying movies from iTunes or importing your own video, iPhone users have no need for a separate portable player. As a bonus, with the iPhone solution, you don’t have to carry around DVD discs.

ebook readers. The Kindle remains popular. But you can read Amazon-purchased ebooks on the Kindle app for iOS devices. The iPad is probably the most direct competitor here, although you can read books on the iPhone as well. Don’t want your books from Amazon? iOS devices give you additional choices — from Apple’s iBooks to an assortment of third-party ebook readers. iOS devices also offer a wider range of newspaper and magazine options. The advantages of ebook readers over the iPad are that the readers (1) are cheaper (2) are lighter and (3) use an e-ink display (that is easier on the eyes than a backlit screen). Of course, readers are only cheaper if you don’t already own the competing iOS device. Otherwise, they’re an added expense. The weight advantage is offset by the fact iOS devices do so many more things than readers. Finally, there are rumors that Apple may be developing an e-ink-LCD hybrid display. Overall, I believe the days of the stand-alone ebook reader are numbered.

Digital cameras. This is the least-favorable case for the iPhone. It won’t replace cameras altogether. Even low-end digital cameras take better photographs than an iPhone. The stand-alone cameras have better low-light capability and superior zoom range — as well as numerous options for controlling exposure, shutter speed, white balance and so forth. If you’re a hobbyist or professional, who needs a DSLR camera, the iPhone obviously will not suffice.

Still, look around the next time you’re at a tourist attraction or any event where people are snapping photos. A lot of them will be using mobile phones. You may be among them. The iPhone may not be the best they can do, but it’s good enough. And (yes, yet again), it saves the cost and hassles of a separate device that you would have to carry around.

Portable audio recorders. Do you record lectures of your college classes? Or do you have any need for making audio recordings on-the-go? If so, and if you have an iPhone, you can say goodbye to separate portable recording hardware. The iPhone is all you need. If you’re not quite satisfied with its built-in Voice Memos app, give Retro Recorder a spin. Even without an external microphone, it can almost always handle the job.

Wrist watches. Wrist watches may never go completely out of fashion. It’s certainly convenient to be able to tell the time with just a glance. But, for many people (especially among the under-30 set), the iPhone is sufficient to meet their time-telling demands. As the iPhone syncs the time online, it’s guaranteed to be accurate.

Travel alarm clocks. Speaking of time-keeping devices, if you have an iPhone, you no longer need to bother with a travel alarm clock. The alarm feature of the iPhone’s Clock app is more than sufficient.

Portable calculators. The HP-11C and 15C RPN calculators remain my all-time favorites. Via emulators apps, I can duplicate these calculators on my iPhone. If your math and graphing needs exceed the capabilities of these HP classics, there are dozens of other math apps ready to assist you — including spreadsheet apps such as Apple’s Numbers.

Your wallet. The iPhone’s final assault on pocketable “hardware” will not be against another digital or electronic device. Rather it will directly attack one of the oldest traditions of objects we carry around: your wallet. It’s already begun.

For one thing, you no longer need your wallet to show off pictures of your family. Use the iPhone’s Photos app instead.

Gradually, digital copies will replace the identification cards and other documentation you carry around. You can already dispense with most membership cards by scanning a copy to a PDF file and storing it on your iPhone. Even if a card includes a barcode, electronic readers are increasingly able to accept a digital image of the code.

Need an airline boarding pass? These too can now be stored on your iPhone.

As with any device with web access, you can pay bills with your iPhone. With some banks (such as Chase), you can even deposit checks via an app.

With the expected arrival of Near-Field Communications (NFC) technology, the time is not far away when the iPhone will replace the need for physical credit cards.

By this point, unless you want to keep your wallet for carrying cash, you’ll be ready to toss your wallet in the trash can.

The very first slogan used to advertise the original iPod, back in 2001, was “1,000 songs in your pocket.” A coming slogan for the iPhone could well be “the only thing in your pocket.”

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Comments

brett_x

No mention of the large keychain i carry around. Schlage already has an app for their end of that (the house door locks). I’d like to see car companies follow suit (and not just for iPhone, but any smartphone).  I missed it if there is one already.

I’m ready to unload my pockets.

But what about women? What do they carry around in those huge sacks they wear on their shoulder? Is it possible that the iPhone (or smartphones in general) could replace the most iconic accessory?

Ted Landau

No mention of the large keychain i carry around.

Ahh, a keychain. Yes, I forgot about that. Good point. Still, I can imagine a time when radio signals from your iPhone will substitute for keys, similar to what you can do with cars now.

Lee Dronick

“But what about women? What do they carry around in those huge sacks they wear on their shoulder?”

          (o)(o)

Finger nail clippers and files, makeup, hair brush and/or comb, that sort of stuff

ilikeimac

I carry all my loyalty cards in an app now (CardStar), though it has occurred to me that a good picture would work just as well, in fact I “backed up” my card numbers by storing iPhone screen shots on my computer.

Of course, the more we rely on a smart phone for this stuff, the more devastating it is to lose or break it. Suddenly you can’t call anyone (I only really know 1 phone number besides mine from memory now-a-days), drive anywhere, get in your house, pay for anything? There’s gotta be a backup, but if you stop carrying anything else, you may be stuck for a while.

Kate

Make me look good to you so I won’t have to carry around a ton of make-up? Tissues and wipes for messy kids? Your glasses? Yeah, then I’ll get rid of the big bag.

ilikeimac

Forget damage, loss or theft, what if the battery simply runs out while you’re out and about? You gotta find somewhere to leech a recharge in order to drive home.

Eric Meyer

What about your drivers license and other ID.  I don’t think the phone will work for that.

Lancashire-Witch

If only it had a tiny screwdriver for fixing my spectacles.  I could leave my Swiss Army knife at home.

Lee Dronick

If only it had a tiny screwdriver for fixing my spectacles.? I could leave my Swiss Army knife at home.

I have a Swiss Army Knife, a “CyberTool Model,” that includes a small screwdriver sized for eyeglass screws. However, that knife is a bit bulky so I carry one of the small Swiss Army Knives along with one of those small screwdrivers sold in eyeglass stores. Your post got me thinking that I could grind the screwdriver blade tip down to the correct size for my eyeglasses. An alternative, I have found that tweezer to be all but worthless as a tweezer so I could grind it down.

Debby

If non-Apple companies can’t keep up… they will fall by the wayside.  As they should.  And they are.

It should be FORCING other companies to become smarter, more inventive, and looking to the future.

Why is Apple the only company that can do that?

Ted Landau

David Pogue has an intriguing column today arguing that smartphones are not the primary reason for Flip’s demise. I partly agree. That’s what was behind my reference to the Flip still selling well.

Still, I believe smartphones played a significant role. Every iPhone or even iPod touch sale is a sale that Flip will never get. The pendulum is not swinging in the right direction for Flip. Cisco may have had its own more sinister motives. Even so, the Flip was ultimately going to be in trouble. Maybe not as much today as the Cisco action would suggest. But soon.

canadianMacguy

what about photo albums… i keep all my great photos of my kids and adventures i have gone on, on the iphone.

b0wz3r

While such functions with an iPhone are certainly going to provide a level of convenience that will be unmatched for a while, it is correct that the problem is the same as with traditional devices, keys, cards, whatnot, that if you lose it, you’re more or less screwed.  That being the case, there is some advantage to the traditional items.

I’m a cyclist, I commute on my bike and frequently ride recreationally.  As such, there are some things I carry on a daily basis that an iPhone will NEVER be able to replace; my Spyderco Tenacious folding knife, my Leatherman, and my LED flashlight (yes, I know there are flashlight apps for the iPhone, but if you think they are sufficient, then you don’t know JACK about the state of the art in LED flashlights).

My 3GS does do a lot for me, and I do look forward to having increased functionality with it, but even with some of the things it can do via apps, it will NEVER be the case that the convenience of that added functionality will be as good as or fully replace the other items I rely on on a daily basis.

waltp

Good column Ted.  The phone book industry is almost gone away because of Google and the iPhone.  I still get a random, off-brand yellow pages book delivered to my house, but that’s happening much more rarely now.  Just saw an ad on television for YP.com, and I guess they’re an attempt to reinvent the phone book industry ... or at least keep it on life-support.

Personally, I let my fingers do the walking through the virtual keyboard on my iPhone or my iPad.  If it’s a number that I’ll need again, I’ll store the info in the Contacts app on both devices (synced, of course, through MobileMe).

wab95

Ted:

I think you’re spot on. While David Pogue’s points are well-taken, I am not convinced that, without the iPhone (and other smartphones), Cisco would have killed the Flip so soon. I think their calculus was, ‘Cut our losses; cannibalise the technology and fold it into the future’.

I spend most of my life in densely populated, low-income countries (certainly more time than my family would like), and would add one more potential casualty to the list, at least for that part of the world (where the majority of the planet lives). PCs. Yes, that’s right. PCs.

Smart phones are just beginning to invade these climes, and as they do, one of the nascent PC markets is almost certain to fall for reasons as much to do with the smartphone as it is to do with itself (not unlike the Flip according to Pogue). Most of the low-income world remains rural, although there is a demographic transition underway to the urban centres. These areas have poor electrical servicing, although it is there to be had. It can support modest loads at best. There is no broad band to much, if not most, of these countries’ sectors, however some locations are getting wireless and 3G services (India among them) into some of the most remote areas.

As people with limited income make choices, like everyone else, they make sustainable choices, where they can. They are more likely to choose a smart phone, which will cost less money, do more things, get them on the internet, and can be serviced with the minimal electrical supplies they have, and not require a broad band connection, which they may never get in their lifetimes, and - oh yes - it makes phone calls to relatives in the big city.

I anticipate lagging PC sales to regions that local analysts have projected would eventually come to lower income sectors in their countries. Bangladesh is one such place where, just a few years ago, the government decided to invest in ‘digital technology’ for the masses, something it has not yet fully accomplished for economic reasons. The smartphone could facilitate the goal far more easily than the venerable PC, and at the latter’s expense.

ctopher

Sir Harry,

My mind when there too when I read “What do they carry around in those huge sacks they wear on their shoulder??

If you do it with periods, its even more graphic somehow. (That’s why I’m not doing it!, I don’t want to be banned or offend!)

Back on topic, I guess I’m an old guy. I was slightly offended when Ted wrote that the internet killed the newspaper industry. I read the paper, in paper form, every day. I have a digital camera, a GPS, a wrist watch. I carry a calculator in my car to figure my gas mileage, I read paper books and magazines.

It’s not that I’m overly fond of any of those “devices”, rather, I can’t see paying $60 a month to replace them. To me, the value is not there. If there was a pay as you go model, I’d probably have an iPhone (even at $500+) BUT, I know I’m in the minority… oh well.

“huge… tracts of land!”

wab95

Make me look good to you so I won?t have to carry around a ton of make-up? Tissues and wipes for messy kids? Your glasses? Yeah, then I?ll get rid of the big bag.

Point taken. The bag stays.

Lee Dronick

Back on topic, I guess I?m an old guy. I was slightly offended when Ted wrote that the internet killed the newspaper industry. I read the paper, in paper form, every day. I have a digital camera, a GPS, a wrist watch. I carry a calculator in my car to figure my gas mileage, I read paper books and magazines.

It?s not that I?m overly fond of any of those ?devices?, rather, I can?t see paying $60 a month to replace them. To me, the value is not there. If there was a pay as you go model, I?d probably have an iPhone (even at $500+) BUT, I know I?m in the minority? oh well.

I think that the decline of the newspaper industry is complicated. The internet has a large part in that, but there are other factors. I stopped taking home delivery so I wouldn’t have to recycle the newsprint and because a lot of the paper was not of interest to me, I read it online. Also the paper was founded by an old school newspaper man and he put a lot of heart into it. When he passed away his wife ran it and did a very good job. However, when she died the son got it and used it mostly to fund his playboy lifestyle to the point he all but destroyed it. A new owner is trying to turn it around, but from what I gather it is tough.

I have a Numbers spreadsheet for vehicle expenses. More than just a place to record fuel purchases it also computes MPG, displays the highest and lowest price per gallon, pie graph comparing our two vehicles’ operating costs.

Forget damage, loss or theft, what if the battery simply runs out while you?re out and about?

One thing that I have done is create a file of important phone numbers in case something happens to my iPhone I keep a copy in my wallet and in each of our vehicles.

what about photo albums? i keep all my great photos of my kids and adventures i have gone on, on the iphone.

Same here, photos are now on my iPhone. My wallet has gotten quite thin, drivers license, military ID, debit card, Costco card, AAA card, cash.

mlanger

You are right on target with the GPS stuff. I’ve been using various tracking apps on my iPhone for a while now and am super-impressed with the results. I collect tracklogs for photography and trip computer statistics when I fly. As long as I have a 3G cell signal, I can even see street or topo maps as I’m traveling.

For pilots, a great app called Foreflight, which works on both iPhone and iPad, offers better functionality than the $12,000 panel-mount Garmin GPS in my helicopter. Rather than view my location on a primitive screen display, I can see it on an actual aeronautical chart that I can download in advance so there’s no need to rely on 3G connectivity. My understanding is that Garmin is trying to play catch-up with this but I don’t think they’ll succeed.

You did leave out one reason to use an iPhone instead of multiple devices: charging them all. It’s a royal pain in the butt to maintain battery power, especially during a long trip. Instead, I can charge or use an DC adapter for a single device and I’m good to go.

Great article, Ted!

zewazir

We may well see the smart phone take over for a lot of devices we currently use.  But is this a good thing? As was pointed out, what happens if your smart phone fails? You’re locked out of your car, because the smart phone is your key. You can’t buy anything because your smart phone is your credit/debit card. You can’t call because your smart phone is your phone book. You can’t even entertain yourself while waiting for help.

Working in IT support, the one thing I can say about ALL technology is it WILL fail for someone, somewhere, every single day. Take 10 million devices, and a 0.1% first year failure rate, and that’s about 28 devices failing daily. Not a big number in the big scheme, unless you are one of those stranded because your smart phone succumbed to the second law of thermodynamics. And while their are ways of mitigating such an event, either it will do little good because all your backups are on your home computer while you’re stuck down town, or you are carrying your backups, in which case the one-device convenience is useless because you’re carrying a bunch of other stuff anyway.

All eggs in one basket may be convenient, but it is seldom a good idea.

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