Jun 30, 2008

Separate But Equal

My buddy Ian Schafer has a great post today about the increased use of mobile internet and what that means for advertising.

And seeing how Research In Motion (Blackberry) has increased its share of the market to 44.5% of all smartphones got me to thinking about something I’d posted about on MP Daily Fix a few months back: I have a sneaking suspicion that “smartphones” may be a misnomer.

Because I don’t think we’re going to use our mobile internet devices (MIDs) as phones down the road.

Already, I see many people who keep two phones: a regular cell phone for making and getting calls, and a Blackberry or iPhone for emails and web browsing. (Full disclosure: I am one of “those people.”) In fact, a recent study showed that a full third of iPhone users keep a second phone for phone calls.

Now there are multiple, overlapping reasons for this.

For me, and many others, it’s the ability to keep work and personal lives separate. So that if I’m going to the movies on a weekend, I can take my cell phone in case the car breaks down or the baby sitter calls, while leaving emails and all matters work-related at home on the dresser, on my Blackberry.

Which leads to reason number two: since many smartphones are employer-provided, people are often hesitant to use them for personal matters, both for ethical and privacy reasons.

But I think there’s also another, bigger reason, one that we may not be consciously aware of: calling has fallen out of favor.

It was only about 5 years ago, that checking your voicemail was a reflex action after you emerged from a long meeting. Now you check your email. Who calls anybody anymore?

In a business setting, phone calls are reserved for emergency or immediate messages: Smith’s plane never took off—the meeting’s cancelled. There's a meeting in Conference Room C- we're all around the corner in Room D instead. We rarely just call to chat, let alone exchange relevant information.

Part of that is due to the ease of email and IM and other communication that allows us to avoid face-to-face conversations. But part of that is due to the fact that it’s just easier—and more socially acceptable in many situations-- to read something than to talk, out loud, about it.

Think about all the meetings you’ve been at where other people have been surreptitiously (or not so surreptitiously) checking their email during the meeting. Or the places you’ve been forced to wait-- a doctor’s office, an airport, a restaurant—where talking on the phone would have seemed rude but emailing or browsing the internet on a smartphone was perfectly acceptable because it was (a) silent (b) private and (c) something you could pause at any moment.

So given all the myriad ways and reasons why we’ve separated voice calls from reading-focused activities (email, IM web browsing) it stands to reason that we’ll continue to separate them on our mobile devices. Leaving us one device that lets us do all sorts of visual and typing related things (email, browsing, texting, photos, video) and another that's just an interactive talking device. (e.g. a phone.)

It will change the way we view our portable media devices, for sure. And if nothing else, it’ll certainly make the product designers jobs a lot easier.

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