Do people expect too much from their smartphones?

frustrationEvery time a new smartphone launches nowadays you get days, weeks, sometimes even months of hype and rumours preceding it. The idea that it might do this or that generally creates some excitement, but when the device lands, invariably it’s a disappointment. No one is impressed by anything a smartphone does anymore. What happened to the sense of wonder? If you could jump in a time machine and go back 20 years with your smartphone people would be amazed. Go back 40 years and you’d be burned as a witch.

The comedian Louis CK summed it up nicely a couple of years ago when he said “Everything is amazing right now and nobody is happy” and spoke about rotary phones compared to what we have now. We’ve got high speed internet on flights and yet people are instantly annoyed if it doesn’t work. There’s definitely no patience in the modern world. We used to wait for several minutes to load a game from a cassette tape and if it crashed ten seconds in you’d just rewind and load it up again.

Taken for granted

Does familiarity really breed contempt? Are we just so accustomed to having smartphones now that this box of pocket-sized magic tricks no longer has the ability to impress us? The younger generation can be excused; if you grow up with something then it’s just not going to feel special. A recent U.S. study by Common Sense Media found that 38% of children under two have used a smartphone or tablet and 50% of children under 8 have used mobile apps. Of those, 17% of kids under 8 are using a mobile device daily.

My own kids assume every display they see is a touchscreen. That’s their default method of interaction and presumably why my TV has smeared fingerprints on it all the time. If you grow up with technology like this then you have nothing to measure it against, but my generation is just as dismissive and jaded about smartphones. Humans are the masters of adapting. We can get used to any situation relatively quickly, so the magic sheen wears off and you take it for granted that your smartphone already surpasses anything Captain Kirk had in his locker.

Amazing developments

Isn’t there a part of you that feels like you’re speaking to Hal when you use a mobile assistant like Google Now or Siri? You can speak to the Moto X without touching it, from across the room, and it will pick your voice out of the crowd, spring to life, and try to answer you. Okay, it will quite often misinterpret what you say and it’s not exactly “intelligent” yet, but it’s getting there, and it’s only going to get better.

What about the idea of unlocking your phone with your fingerprint? Biometric security is no longer the preserve of megacorporation’s or super villain’s headquarters (maybe there’s no distinction there). The ten year-old me would have assumed you were an international spy if he’d seen you with an iPhone 5S. The actual reaction is a general “meh” and the same old assertion that incremental improvements are dull and there’s nothing very exciting about any of the new smartphones on the market.

Promise of the future

As a child of the eighties, born in the seventies, the only technological vision of the future that has delivered and even surpassed expectations is the smartphone. There are no household robots (unless you count those rubbish hoover bots), home automation is weak and expensive, everything still looks dirty, there are no hover boards or flying cars, and we don’t even have a moon base yet.

We’ve got driverless cars and the beginning of our long slow transformation into cyborgs with wearable tech looming on the horizon, but right now smartphones and 3D printers are the only things that still have a whiff of sci-fi about them.

Fastest adopted tech ever

Smartphones are the fastest adopted tech ever. As Flurry pointed out, smartphones are being adopted ten times faster than PCs, twice as fast as the Internet, and three times faster than social networks. There are nearly 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world, almost one for each person on the planet. It’s safe to say we like smartphones enough to buy them in huge numbers. Let’s just remember how far they’ve come in a short space of time, don’t lose your sense of wonder just because it’s not cool to show enthusiasm for anything. Smartphones are awesome.

[Image by Zack Klein]

About Simon Hill

Simon is an experienced tech writer with a background in games development. He has been covering the world of mobile technology for several years now and writes for a variety of popular websites.