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Are Phones an Anachronism?
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100px-IPhone_2G_PSD_Mock Recently I was having a discussion with a friend who is a very successful businessman, and he brought up the possibility of not replacing his smartphone. His logic was that all he was paying $200 a month (family plan costs) was the number. With something like an iPad mini and 3G he could emulate almost all the functionality of the phone at a smaller recurring cost. The logic here being that most of the calls with something like Skype would be done over wi-fi anyway (so not taxing a a data plan’s bandwidth limitations for 3G). As for texting services such as WhatsApp will probably replace standard SMS over the next few years.

Which brings us to the crux of why one should keep the phone: a traditional number. Yet internet services such as Skype have numbers too. So what’s stopping us? Inertia? I’m honestly wondering why I have a phone in terms of functionality, as opposed to the fact that everyone has a phone (I actually do most of my phone calls via Skype, often on my Kindle Fire, and sometimes on my phone’s wi-fi).

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  1. I do not have internet in my home. My wife and I both carry an unlimited amount of data in our pocket everywhere we go. Unless a wireless carrier is willing to offer me unlimited data I’m not even looking. I’m fine with paying the high premium for just a phone number, when attached to that number is my internet.

  2. O brave new world, where people make most of their phone calls from… a book!

  3. “So what’s stopping us?”
    – Old people.

  4. There are situations where having redundant communications is prudent (I’m required to have one with me at all times) but it’s true that the only time I would need it is during emergencies. Until every stretch of rural road where you might get a flat tire has wireless coverage, phones will still be have their place.

    Also, while there are metropolitan areas where governments have the ability and inclination to shut down ISPs when the population gets out of hand, the phone gets really important.

  5. Every time I consider wanting to drop my phone plan, I soon after have to fill out a form that won’t let me proceed unless I enter a phone number.

  6. 3G costs something like 20$/month, and having a phone number linked to a Skype account costs 5$. Whatapp is 1$ a month.

    I think the cheapest T-Mobile plan is something like 50$

    So you’d save 24$-ish?

  7. Some of us live in rural or semi-rural areas where good internet is rare, what internet there is comes through the phone company’s copper (and I mean copper), and cable is non-existent. Until 7-8 years ago, I had satellite, largely for the internet once my kids went off to college, and when finally the phone company made DSL available where I live, I dropped the cable [We cannot even get local, over-the-air TV due to living in a fairly narrow valley and in the shadow of hills — more a ridge — just across the street). Since then, Verizon sold its hardware to a company that exists only to allow Verizon to shed its responsibilities is less densely settled regions, so that may not exist too long. Until about 5 years ago, even cell coverage was pretty spotty at my home: yes Verizon on most days, rarely if ever, AT&T, which meant that, back then, my wife’s iPhone did not work at our house.

    So, unlike, say, S. Korea, the coverage and quality of important aspects of modern technology are spotty in much of the U.S.

  8. “So, unlike, say, S. Korea, the coverage and quality of important aspects of modern technology are spotty in much of the U.S.”

    Much of the US in terms of land-area, but most (and an increasing percentage of) people in the US live in high or medium density areas. According to Pew, 98% of people live in areas where broadband is available, and you don’t need particularly great band-width for just voice and messaging.

    So while a few people might be in your situation and be stuck with traditional cel or even landline service due to being in rural areas, that’s pretty clearly not the reason most people have stuck with them.

    (also, to adjust my calculation in my last post, I forgot the cost of being able to make outgoing calls with Skype, which is 4$ a month, so your probably looking a just 20$/mo in savings, which is admittedly still non-trivial for a lot of people. Of course, that assumes broadband is “free”, that is, you’d pay for it even if you didn’t use it for phone-calls and messaging).

  9. People still use Skype? Huh. I stopped using Skype back in 2011. I use Facebook Messenger, social media, and some texting, and call my mother and a few others, but I’ve never really used the Skype or Google Voice thing. Heck, my phone plan only includes 300 minutes a month; I’ve gone over maybe twice, and those were both months where I had problems with companies that resulted in long phone calls, but were atypical.

  10. I use an old flip phone with text messaging and voice – no internet at all! That’s what this laptop is for. Not everyone wants to have the internet on them at all times. Not everyone uses social networks, either…

  11. What April said. Redundancy matters. So does multi-tasking on multiple devices.

    The irony is that when the sh*t hits the fan, every single uninvolved civilian hits the button and sends some inane SMS to every single other person in his address book about ‘yay, let’s have a typhoon party’ or whatever, and the service provider’s server can’t handle the instantaneous traffic overload. So just when you really need emergency communications, they don’t work. Well, there’s satellite phones, or dedicated networks, but they cost serious money.

    For work, people are using WhatsApp for comms a lot now.

    I mostly use an iPad mini for work stuff away from home/office, but I can’t fit it in my pocket, so the phone still gets used. The wife prefers WhatsApp, the daughter prefers voice, in a multi-lingual family you have to accommodate the most important people in your life – the daughter likes a lot of rapid sarcastic jokey stuff, the wife needs clarity and simplicity. I swore I would never get a tablet, when a laptop makes so much more sense, theoretically, but that was before I finally buckled and got the iPad mini, and *surprise* I use it all the time. For travelling, I’m just not going to lug a laptop when a small tablet will do. I get books on the mini and they’re perfectly readable. On the phone screen they’re not, although that’s what Martin Rundkvist does. Reading books on a phone would send me blind. When the phone gets too big to fit in my pocket, it will cease to have a point – I need and use both. The phone doubles as an iPod in the gym, while telling me when I’ve got messages.

    When our daughter was overseas studying, we used Skype a *lot*. Now, never. I would use it for my overseas mother, but she never progressed beyond a land line; my sister is still getting used to email. She is on Facebook all the time; I deleted my Facebook account – just how many random Japanese friends do I need? Besides, my Australian friends really didn’t like that I had Japanese friends; I needed to keep them separated. My daughter kept her Facebook account but doesn’t use it much – her Papuan friend is a nice girl, but writes “phukk” a lot (maybe that’s the Tok Pisin spelling, I don’t know) and is on the ‘Melanesian pride’ thing all the time. Most of her Chinese friends much prefer real one-on-one time in meat space when they are in town, even if it’s just multi-tasking at the hair dresser due to time constraint. It turns out the world’s heaviest users of social networking are Filipinos – if you know a lot of Filipinos, that’s funny. They are very (how you say?) emotionally expressive, crowd-support type people. I guess I just don’t find social networking useful, or don’t understand what it’s for. I mean, I find networking very useful, obviously, but not there.

  12. One pocket of my jeans is dedicated to carrying the device I use to receive calls. I don’t care if that device is a smartphone. Currently, it’s more camera than phone, and has smartphone functionality only within range of wifi, since I buy no dataplan.


    It has to fit in my jeans pocket. Else, it won’t be with me, most of the time.

  13. In Kampala I have a fairly complicated phone situation (my local phone, UK phone & this wireless dongle I have so that my UK phone can cannot to the internet).

    Suffice to say I’ve put my UK phone on airport mode (to save battery) but I use it so often for Wifi (Skype, Viber, Whatsapp, Twitter & Instagram) that remains my main phone over here.

    A phone is moving from being a communicator alone to a being a portal for Wifi, which I imagine is the intended trajectory. The only thing is that it’s not so pleasant reading on the iPhone (I did finish one disastrous French existential sci-fi novel on it but I need to get back the Kindle I lent to my brother-in-law to be on the other side of the world).

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  15. I am learning to sue app `WECHAT’. Sandgroper might know more about it than me.

  16. No, sorry. I haven’t tried it.

  17. The telephone number has a stronger connection to the owner’s identity, than the email address. And there lies the key. Skype and most social networks use the email address as the users identity.
    Email providers and social networks realise the weakness of email addresses as identity.

    That’s why google’s two factor authentication uses sms to mobile devices to authenticate the user. Your password is what you know. And your phone is what you have.

    Also this is why facebook bought whatsapp for such a huge amount. Whatsapp has the telephone number as the user’s identity.

    You will always need your telephone number.

  18. You will always need your telephone number

    After graduating from college, my son spent a year out of the country. When he returned, he got a new phone number, from an area code that he was only visiting for a wedding. Several years later, he is out of the country again for a year, and when he returns next year, I expect that he will get a new number, but only for a year as he will again be out of the country for 2-3 years after that.

    Each time away he has been in a different country (with different local languages), and this year he is in a different continent than before or after.

    So he may always need a phone number, but even though he (so he tells me) rarely uses facebook anymore, I expect that this is how he let’s people who need to know what his current phone number is, or the best way to reach him. His email address has remained constant through all this (he switched to a gmail account while still in college).

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