Homeless in Vancouver: Smartphone fatigue? Take one tablet and call me on a feature phone

The most popular tablets are essentially scaled-up smartphones that don’t make phone calls.

Critics pointed this out back in 2010. They asked why people with an iPhone would ever want an iPad.

Today the question is reversed: people with iPads and Android tablets are actually beginning to wonder if they still need their smartphones. Maybe all they need are their smart tablets and a dumb phone.

Predictions of the death of old-school “feature phones” (that flip-phone you have in a box with your Palm organizer and VHS tapes) at the hands of iOS- and Android-based smartphones may have been premature.

The same features that made smart phones look so good: touchscreens, applications, cameras and Internet connectivity, actually look and work much better on tablet computers.

Smartphones are smart because they can be

Phones got smart because they stopped being phones that tried to play music and games, and became real computers that could make phone calls. The genesis of the smartphone was really a mash-up of a cellphone and a Palm personal organizer.

The Palm Treo 650, released in 2004, was the smartphone of its day: Qwerty keyboard, touchscreen, VGA camera, thousands of powerful apps, good telephone features, and a lame proxy Web browser.

Palm’s day lasted until 2007. Apple’s iPhone “borrowed” every good feature a Treo ever had, and added all the other features Palm wouldn’t, such as Wi-Fi. Palm died. Apple thrived, and smartphones drove all before them.

“Smart” then stole all the thunder from “phone”.

Remember 2010 and the iPhone 4? Great features, great design, great apps. Crappy reception—sold like poop through a goose.

Thanks to Apple—which got the idea from Palm—apps have become the tail that both wags and sells what is often a dog of a phone.

The thing about choice in a totally consumer-based society is people choose from what’s available. So in this case, people chose the better smartphone model that Apple gave them, until Apple presented them with an even better choice; a truly functional tablet.

The argument goes: tablets make much better mobile computers, so maybe phones should just focus on making phone calls again?

We all scream for eye screens?

The actual solution probably won’t be tablets—not for long—because the real problem isn’t smartphones, it’s just the display.

The only difference between a smartphone and a tablet is the screen size. Now that people—against industry expectations—have embraced touchscreens, keyboards and data entry are no longer insoluble problems. But the display still is.

Sounds a bit weird but a lot of people are betting that the real solution for mobile computing lies in wearable micro displays for the human eye. A lot of teams have been working on this kind of technology for a long time.

The best-known effort that is close to reality is Google Glass. Google’s not exactly selling pairs of its wearable computer display yet, but it is taking names and numbers. And a pair is available on eBay.

Other companies have put eyeglass displays on the market going at least back to 2009; here’s a list of six of them.

A lot of them have reportedly sucked, but that was the same problem with tablets before the iPad—good ideas badly implemented.

Someone will get it right sooner or later—does Apple have an iEye in the wings?—and then there will be no tablets or phones or laptops, just little slim boxes in a pocket, wirelessly connected to eyeglass displays and earbuds that will seamlessly toggle between the real world and and the virtual. Sounds just like it sounds.

Back in 1992, author Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novel Snow Crash made wearable computing look really plausible:

“In this way, a narrow beam of any color can be shot out of the innards of the computer, up through that fisheye lens, in any direction. Through the use of electronic mirrors inside the computer, this beam is made to sweep back and forth across the lenses of Hiro’s goggles, in much the same way as the electron beam in a television paints the inner surface of the eponymous Tube. The resulting image hangs in space in front of Hiro’s view of Reality.

By drawing a slightly different image in front of each eye, the image can be made three-dimensional. By changing the image seventy-two times a second it can be made to move. By drawing the moving three-dimensional image at a resolution of 2K pixels on a side, it can be as sharp as the eye can perceive, and by pumping stereo digital sound through the little earphones, the moving 3-D pictures can have a perfectly realistic soundtrack.”

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Alan Layton
Couldn't agree with you more. I'm too old to feel the need to be online all of the time, so my smartphone is turning out to be a pain in the butt to carry around and my data plan is a complete waste of money. I do find texting to be a great benefit and so as long as I can do that and make calls, then I'd be just as happy with a much smaller flip phone.
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