Thursday, June 30, 2011

Man Without Smartphone

UPDATE: Farhad Manjoo's call in for a cheaper iPhone, coincidentally, falls with the announcement that Apple may offer a free iPhone 3G on contract starting in the fall. Still doesn't get me around the ol' monthly charge for cell/data service, however . . .

The only way I could be more backwards – or maybe retro, given hipster affectations for All Things Old Except Politics – in the world of telephony is if I went to the thrift store and brought home one of those rotary dial phones they have there. While I’d look a bit silly toting one of those onto the bus for my morning and evening commute, it would certainly be less expensive (and, yes, less useful) than a modern cell phone.

But I have one of those. Well, modern in the may it cal make phone calls from pretty much everywhere the bus goes (though I can’t make calls form inside my building, too much RF interference from the engineers’ radios next door). I have a randomly-branded and –named dumbphone through Tmobile, pay-as-you-go, that costs us maybe $50 a year.

That’s why I don’t have a smartphone. Sure, I can’t browse the internet or get email on my dumbphone (and I don’t even carry that with me; it’s pretty much my wife’s phone), but I also sure don’t spend $50, $60, or $80 a month for the privilege of having a smartphone to mess around with.

Farhad Manjoo, over at Slate, argues that Apple needs to come out with a cheaper iPhone to help the unwashed masses like myself dive into the world of smartphones.

Not so. While I might balk at the idea of paying $200 for a top of the line iPhone if I were interested in getting a smartphone, what steers me from smartphones (and cell phones in general) is not the price of the phone, but the price of the monthly service. I don’t have $600 to $1000 to toss into cell phone coverage for a year. Remember how I said we spend less than $50 a year on our current cell phone? That’s all I’m willing to pay.

Would it be nice to have email and internet capability all the while I’m on the 1 ½ hour bus ride home? Yes, it would. Is it necessary? No. So I look at the opportunity cost and decide I’d rather spend that money on something else.

Ah, many argue – you still have a landline at home. That costs you about $35 a month – $420 a year – plus the at-home high speed internet service, another $360 a year. Yes I do. But don’t compare apples to oranges here.

I could eliminate the landline and substitute a smartphone for it. But I’m still spending more money for phone service. Moving money from one bucket to another and calling it a cost savings (which is what most people tout when they brag they’ve gotten rid of their landline) is disingenuous. And while there are ways to tether cell phones to work as high-speed internet lines, cell phone carriers are clamping down on that – all that internet browsing is cutting down on the bandwidth others might want to use, for, say, making a phone call. So I’d have to retain my at-home high speed internet and pay extra to have an internet-capable smartphone. I just can’t pry the wallet open far enough to do that.

So I will remain smartphoneless. And not unhappily so.

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