A Dozen Devices the iPhone Is Killing

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.”