Computerized mobile telecommunications devices, better known as smartphones, have marked one of the most important technological revolutions of this century. The evolution of telephony managed to consolidate the so long desired omnipresence in movement, passing through photography and video in the immediate vicinity, to the possibility of portable connection with internet access, which in turn allows to manage emails, websites, social media, specialized applications and a number of online services in most cases that can interact with each other.
But even though the benefits that this technology has brought are practically innumerable and it has changed our way of life, it has also served as an excuse to sustain a part of the annihilating speeches, which have predicted the hasty end of other technologies and the decline of many services, proposing that the cell phone will become the only surviving heir to convergence, a very simplistic argument that ignores such basic aspects as ergonomics, efficiency and reliability. A simple example to explain it is to ask if we would be willing to replace a laptop with a cell phone to write a university thesis.
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How are Mobiles Changing the Telecommunications Industry?
Taking a picture has never been so easy, it is a matter of opening an application, focusing, framing the image and shooting, but it is easier to share it with hundreds of friends through an instant messaging system or a Social Media Application, send it by email, store it in the cloud or simply view it over and over again on the retina display of the same device, which also helps to manage and sort it along with all the other pictures by using another simple application.
Undoubtedly, the experience of taking, storing and sharing photos evolved and became wonderfully simplified from the past, but this definitely does not mean that digital cameras will disappear, because the quality of image provided by professional lenses: the depth of field, the focus, the ability to capture objects moving at high speeds and many other details, can only be guaranteed by a device as specialized as the camera for any expert or amateur who is a little more demanding of photography.
On the other hand, the consumption of music on mobile devices seems to be ending with the traditional radio, since personalized lists may be created using specialized applications, share them with friends and access to specialized recommendations, while it is possible to consume millions of online transmitters around the world.
But what happens when we run out of data or battery, or we are in a rural area where the cellular signal does not reach? Undoubtedly, the old portable radio is the alternative. In the case of cars, manipulating a cell phone while driving is a crime, something that does not happen with the built-in radio. All this without considering the proximity value of the radio with local news, information on concerts and the raffle of free tickets for all kinds of shows in many cases.
Consuming video became a fascinating experience when we go on a bus and can get the signal for a soccer game, something that would have been impossible years ago since no one carried a 21-inch TV on public transportation. It is wonderful to watch the midday news on video, while eating lunch on the street. Having fun with an original YouTube video while waiting in the medical office can be very relaxing. Watching an episode of a Netflix series while waiting for a flight at the airport makes an endless wait seem short. However, a Smartphone does not replace the experience of watching a movie on a 50 inch TV with surround sound or the unparalleled experience of going to the movies when dating a couple, even it will hardly replace the family TV located in the dining room and the tradition to watch the news or sports on a giant screen at the bar of preference since memorable times.
Opening a complex spreadsheet on a cell phone with a budget that is urgently needed and also being able to send it to the boss in a matter of seconds, not only brings a lot of peace of mind, but will surely avoid losing a job. However, this wonderful possibility does not imply that we will be able to project a budget from a cell phone in the near future, because not only the interface is inefficient and insufficient, but it will require many pop-ups and open documents to be able to reconstruct the information and this may be a real nightmare in a cell phone.
Portability, Convergence, Expansion and Pervasiveness
Mobile devices are a portable and convergent expansion of traditional communication habits that have opened an unprecedented window of space and time, generating a real sense of communicative omnipresence, expanding the range of coverage and functionality of thousands of experiences that previously required more devices and geographical dependence. A better way to understand this is to try to inventory all the devices that would be required to equal the use of a cell phone in a time range of one hour. Possibly we would need a camera, a computer, an internet access device, a conventional telephone, a calendar, a map, a GPS, a radio, a television, a newspaper and a magazine.
However, the fact that the cell phone integrates all these services in the same technological device does not necessarily mean that the other devices will disappear. On the contrary, many of them will be enhanced thanks to the smartphone, which is a great paradox difficult to understand, but which is undoubtedly part of the liquid characteristics of a converging, multiplatform and networked information society.
Figures for the camera market show a notable decrease in sales of compact cameras, as a result of the significant improvement in built-in mobile photography services; however, the same effect has represented an increase in global sales of cameras with interchangeable lenses. According to figures from the Statista portal, more than 40 million cameras were sold globally in 2003, around 5 million were of interchangeable lenses. By 2016, only 13 million cameras were sold, but about 9 million of them were interchangeable lenses cameras.
As people take more photos, they want to improve their practice and when the cell phone does not meet the demand of their expectations, they acquire (if their purchasing power allows it) a camera with interchangeable lenses to improve their experience and the quality of their photos. This way the cell phone allowed these people (who otherwise might not have developed an interest in photography) to know this discipline and want to expand their horizons in this field, regardless that for most users, the smartphone will still be enough.
The individualization of consumption is one of the most important features that smartphones have triggered. Certain practices, such as audiovisual consumption, have found a new scenario in individualized consumption, whether on demand or linear. The same is true for information consumption, i.e., more and more people are using their cell phones as a device to consume personalized content.
But while this individualized consumption has grown, collective consumption has also grown in parallel. For example, inviting a couple to watch together a marathon of their favorite series on the TV screen is a new form of courtship that is being characterized as an everyday social practice, or that a family gathers around the TV to watch a movie is still a common practice, demonstrating that while individual consumption grows with the strengthening of cell phones, social and cultural characteristics push parallel technologies that tend to collective consumption, since we are social beings after all.
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Finally, it is possible to identify the nomadic consumption of information and media, as one of the most striking contributions that the cell phone makes to our contemporary society, as it is perfectly possible to read a book or a magazine, watch the news or consume a funny video while walking, running, riding the bus or the subway, and even in a plane today, which brings nomadism to our particular contemporary culture as a practice that combines and alternates with our sedentary way of life.
In conclusion, although computerized mobile devices are here to stay, they will do so as an expanded and portable window of telecommunications, promoting in their great majority an individualized consumption, in some cases nomadic and although it is evident that they have destroyed technologies such as music players and flashlights, in most cases, the increase they produce in the consumption of services ends up strengthening their competitors due to their technological specificity.
The deterministic and simplistic reductionism proposed by some apocalyptic discourses, claiming that the cell phone will destroy other technologies and end many cultural industries, not only distorts reality, but is intentionally very harmful to certain industries, sectors and media, which are instead experiencing one of their best moments in history, paradoxically thanks to the momentum that mobiles have injected.
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Gabriel E. Levy B.