Is it time to rename our phones?

by George Lovell | | 0 comments

"It's just a phone" ... Is it though?

20 years ago this statement would have been pretty bang on. We use our mobile phones primarily for making calls and sending texts when we're not at home or the office.

In the 20th century, a phone was really just a phone, and we made a clear distinction between a Mobile Phone and a Landline Phone.

Your landline was your "Phone", and everybody had one. Not everyone had a "Mobile Phone".

In recent years the Mobile Phone was promoted to "Phone", and the Landline Phone has been demoted to "Landline" or "Home Phone". Most people born after 2006 will probably never have had a home phone. You mean to tell me that you had to call a household rather than an individual?

The mobile phone surpassed the landline phone to became our primary means of voice calls in 2011. For the first time, Brits spent more time talking on their mobile phone than their landline phone.

Then came the rise of the smartphone, which outsold feature phones (basic phones) for the first time in 2013. Since then, we've seen rapid growth in the smartphone market, to the point where we have near-universal adoption worldwide - 86.4% of the world's population have a smartphone.

Eventually, we dropped the "Smart" prefix, which we will probably (hopefully) also do for smart fridges, watches, TVs, homes etc. We even have Smart Cities and Smart Motorways now... We have an irritating obsession with making everything Smart.

Referring to your Phone as a Smartphone was never very cool though was it.

Smart labels aside, the amount of innovation we've seen in this time is unparalleled. The mobile phone has become an extremely useful - even essential - daily item.

In fact, most people would probably class their smartphone as their most important material possession. See how many people you can find under the age of 65 that wouldn't have it in their top 3.

The smartphone is perhaps the only thing that you literally never forget to leave the house with, and that you wouldn't dream of travelling without.

Always in your pocket or your hand, it's a part of your identity. Being without it makes you feel naked. Having a stranger go through it would make you feel unsettled.

So is it really just a phone? Or should we call it something else?

We comprised our own list of common uses of smartphones, and ranked them (very roughly) based on what percentage of users utilise each function, and how frequently:

  1. Checking Time
  2. Messaging
  3. Social Media
  4. Email
  5. Camera
  6. Reading News
  7. Listening To Music/Audio
  8. Online Shopping
  9. Navigation
  10. Watching Videos
  11. Research & Googling
  12. Checking Weather
  13. Banking & Payments
  14. Making Calls

That's just a small part of a growing list.

So at what point is our device a clock rather than a phone?

"Phone" is shorthand for "Telephone", the definition of which is "a system for transmitting voices over a distance using wire or radio, by converting acoustic vibrations to electrical signals."

Sounds a bit archaic doesn't it.

With advancements in AI and other technologies, our pocket devices will surely, at some point, more closely resemble a mini robot than an actual telephone.

The smartphone in its current form is a really small computer. A battery connects to a circuit board which powers a processor. It sends and receives information via radio waves (internet). As opposed to a keyboard and mouse, the touch screen lends itself well to one-hand navigation and gestures. Most apps are just websites which have been optimised for the handheld interface - the small portrait screen. When we recognise the smartphone as a portable computer, it makes a lot of sense.

A "Computer" is defined as "an electronic device for storing and processing data, typically in binary form, according to instructions given to it in a variable program."

Seems a bit more appropriate. Although "Mobile Computer" doesn't quite roll of the tongue.

What about "Mobiles"..? Our phones are indeed "Mobile" - "able to move or be moved freely or easily." It encapsulates their portability without limiting its functions. Plus, we are already culturally familiar with that term. And it's a slick two syllables.

Even so, I can't see people taking too kindly to the Apple iMobile.

Language is a stubborn old thing. 26 letters arranged in various combinations which we use create a heavily compressed interpretation of the complex nature of reality.

But when you say "Phone", I know exactly what you mean. 

1 syllable; 5 letters - Phone - means so much more than a dictionary would or could suggest. So until we adopt integrated brain chips, perhaps it will do.

Though there's always a chance that a new trendy word or term will catch on.

What do you think we should call our portable digital assistants?

Thanks for reading!

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