Some people get a thrill from the latest phone camera improvements and remodelled designs. It’s fun! Or maybe you have been waiting eagerly to ditch your busted old phone. In either case, go forth and fawn.
But a lot of hoopla around new smartphones is an anachronism of the years when the devices were precious pieces of magic pitched hardest at tech enthusiasts. They’re not anymore. Smartphones are normal and for everyone. And that makes it natural for them to become less noteworthy. It’s a sign of how miraculous smartphones are that we don’t have to think about them very much. Like other consumer products including cars, TVs and refrigerators, most people in relatively affluent countries buy a new smartphone when an old one wears out or they want a change.
Largely because of this healthy evolution from novel to normal, new smartphone sales had been declining for several years, although they’re climbing this year. Somehow it feels like there’s more pressure on us to have opinions and feelings about our phones than about our refrigerators. (Although I will not argue if you want to hug your fridge. Do it now. I’ll wait.) I know that cars in particular can be emotionally resonant. But for many of us, getting a new phone, car, TV or fridge is neat for a little while and then we get used to it and it feels fine. That is fine.
That said, we should be glad that smartphone makers keep improving their devices in small and large ways. It has been good that personal computers — which like smartphones shifted to less noteworthy essentials from novelties — took the opportunity to reimagine what else people might want from computers.
We got clever new products like Chromebooks, the bare-bones laptops that took off in many U.S. schools because they were relatively inexpensive and easy for educators to customise for students. We also got more variety in computers that combine elements of tablets, souped-up PCs for people who love video games and computers with the zippy brains of smartphones. When computers became too normal for people to care very much, it sparked invention.
It’s possible that the same thing may happen in the not-magical phase of smartphones. I am cautiously curious about smartphones that fold or unfurl to offer more screen real estate in a relatively small package. So far, folding smartphones — Samsung showed off its latest models last Wednesday — have been mostly expensive and awful. I still think there’s a promising idea in there. (Or, maybe not.)
Smartphones also remain a test bed for useful inventions, particularly for photography and for software features such as voice recognition. So hooray for the smartphone companies that keep perfecting their products. That doesn’t mean that we need to care a jot about Google’s odd looking new Pixel phones — they really do look weird, though — or Apple’s coming iPhone … 13? 12S? Whatever. The latest phones will be lighter, faster, better and maybe more expensive than the old ones. The cool new features will be there when you’re ready. You don’t have to care until then.
Ovide is a tech writer with NYT©2021
The New York Times