Mobile Insanity


Written by Dan Hampson
09 Sunday 09th October 2011

With the launch of the Aesir AE+Y, a gold plated luxury phone with a $60,000 price tag that purports to last ‘forever’ yet has no capacity for email, photos or internet, and the announcement of a rather more equipped smartphone last week, Don’t Panic felt it high time to try and make head and/or tail of the frankly ludicrous mobile phone market.

The acceleration of consumer culture and the ever increasing availability of mobile phones has lead to a battle amongst retailers to try and unsettle Apple at the top of the foodchain by proffering more features, cheaper plans and faster processors. We're all aware and suitably awed by the ever increasing power of smartphones, but do these relentless advancements come at a cost to basic functionality and durability?

The AE+Y doesn’t specify exactly what its claim to last ‘forever’ really entails and it seems to offer a weird balance of features that favours neither innovation or functionality, a five hour battery life and a two inch screen being less than impressive, as is hoping that listing ‘Speed Dial’ as a feature will be a deal breaker.  A statement by AE+Y designer Yves Béhar bemoans "An age when the industry seems to think that phones aren’t for speaking anymore”. His response? To create a gold plated phone with extremely limited functionality seems to suggest he feels the lost art of speaking on mobile phones is one that should be reserved only for the super rich.

The desire for the latest products is certainly nothing new but the grip that technology brands now have over us is certainly unprecedented. Mundane announcements about OS upgrades are greeted with rapture and new technologies and features are drip-fed to an eager public at a steady enough rate to ensure continued sales whilst keeping trump cards held back for next year.

Moore's Law states, in laymans terms, that the power of basic computer components doubles roughly every two years, meaning processors become faster, internal memory better and cameras sharper. This has a particularly marked effect on the mobile phone market, as new technologies render older models obsolete in ever shortening periods of time, with phones needing genuine staying power to remain on the shelves for long, a feat the iPhone has managed like no other (albeit with a few updates). 

After another bout of wrestling once again with my frozen smartphone I often pine for the days of the Nokia 3310, that rugged, ergonomically backward hunk of basic functionality which at the time seemed so incredible yet now seems as archaic as politeness and New Labour.  Whilst I mock, there are undoubtably users of the 3310 still existing somewhere, looking on with scorn at us technophiles blithely following the word of the service providers as if it were testament and laughing heartily as we poke with ever increasing fervour at our cracked touchscreens and bemoan our crap battery life.

JCB, of diggers and dumpers fame offer a more affordable and practical mobile range that my Swedish stepfather would truly be excited about, usually a good indicator of functionality, hardiness and manliness in a product. The varying devices claim to be ‘Waterproof, able to withstand a ton of pressure and a two metre drop' a marketing line which is the direct antithesis of most smartphones' caveats and softcases. Luckily Dragons' Den entrepeneur Peter Jones is on hand to, somewhat awkwardly, talk us through the JCB's appeal.

It feels at times like we are now intrinsically linked to our phones and it is worth appraising the hold they have over us and how our attitudes have changed over the years, even those of us least likely to regard ourselves as ‘sheep’ (I’m ‘in line with current trends’, what about you?) are too often glued to our handsets, allowing ourselves to become as unconnected to the world around us as the products themselves, even as our connection to the intangible, digital world increases.  Long live the 3310 I say - until the iPhone 5 comes out at least.

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