Guest Article: Alternative Viewpoints on Smartphone Investment

posted by on 1st August 2011, at 1:30am

This guest article comes to us from Bryan on the forums. We hope you enjoy this since mobile phones can be a confusing market space. Bryan can also be found on Twitter at @avos99887. If you want to send us a guest article we ask that you have your proposal in by the 14th. To find out more check out this page.

Back in the day, smartphones were primarily directed toward businesses or individuals that led very eventful lives. By combining the cellular phone with a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), and bundled with a few other goodies like an e-mail client and simple games, the early smartphone was born. These devices ran on operating systems, similar to computers, but there was greater variety in platforms that supported them, and unlike today’s platforms, were fairly balanced. The dominant ones were Windows Mobile, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry OS, Symbian, and PalmOS.

Things got shaky in 2008. The iPhone 3G and iTunes App Store were introduced by Apple, the Open Handset Alliance was formed, and the Android operating system was introduced and released. These events, to name a few, repeatedly sparked the evolution of the smartphone device, and helped to shape it into what we all see in people’s hands today. Smartphones were no longer directed at corporate-first-class-flyers or soccer-club-presidents-slash-moms. This elite class of mobile devices was finally ready to be unleashed for every capable consumer.

Now let us jump to 2011. Smartphones were hot items then, and smartphones are hot items now. They are now coming out to carriers faster than ever before, with the inventories of dumbphones quickly diminishing. Perfect ones lay at rest for people hailing from different walks of life. Mobile applications that aid everyday activities are executed smoothly and natively, and these devices are designed to be used with students, businesspeople, and the retired kept in mind.

But despite the fact that the smartphone has made such intuitive breakthroughs, there are still many people that are reluctant to take advantage of its full features, or even purchase one. I pondered over why this was the case, and asked myself, “Why do people choose to be without a smartphone in this day and age?” I found that there are many reasons as to why people choose to be in that particular circumstance, and consequently, some of these reasons will be explored.

“I am scared the one I buy will be out of date once purchased…that the corporate cash hoarders plan it to be so…I am planning on buying one that’s top-o’-the-line!”

The truth is: phones get outdated all the time. Like other pieces of technology, it is not uncommon to see a really hyped-up phone announced and then get buried below other tech news. Part of the reason is in the device’s specifications, or “specs”. Some readers may remember Sprint being “America’s first 4G network” carrying with it the HTC EVO 4G; it is quite a neat example. Its specs literally told the consumer that it was a mobile powerhouse. Bringing customers “4G speeds” (if it was available in your area), a 1GHz processor, a stunning 8-Megapixel camera with dual-LED flash, and a massive 4.3-inch display, there is no doubt that the “world’s first 4G Android phone” stayed on top of the market for many months. The EVO 4G started selling in June of 2010, and the HTC Desire HD was announced in September of that year. It packed similar specs to the EVO 4G, but included a revamped version of the HTC’s Sense Android skin, and a SIM card slot which allowed many GSM carriers worldwide to sell the phone, not just Sprint. That was three months. Three whopping months, that’s a very long time to be on top of the market in the mobile world! And that was even without any consideration of other carriers/manufacturers and the fact that Microsoft’s “heavy-specced” armada of Windows Phone 7 devices that would be launching the month after. Many people I have met say it is planned obsolescence, that the carriers are releasing phones that become undesirable and old after a period of time. But it is the work of perceived obsolescence, us people perceive a product to be outdated through purchase and advertisement. As mentioned, a device’s specs are only part of a device’s value to fulfill its price point. Also mentioned was the fact that a device gets outdated all the time, if a particular consumer makes it so. Over time, yes, a device may seem out of style/fashion, so buy a case for it and put it on! Maintain the device’s value by protecting it as much as you can, while maintaining a comfortable level of security and style. If it’s more your thing, see if you can somehow upgrade your device to the latest operating system from its maker through the use of aftermarket firmware. You could also take it a step further and overclock your phone to keep up with the latest “superphone” apps. A popular phone is well-loved, and there is bound to be a community destined with the same fate you are. But by being a community, there is no question that they would go to great lengths to prevent your device from being overshadowed to the extent of the device getting unsupported and discontinued. With all these resources, you could mod/skin/update your device thoroughly beyond recognition; the potential in this is virtually limitless.

“I’m too poor…at those ridiculous prices I have better things to spend my money on!”

Certain people don’t need more expenses weighing down their wallet, especially a recurring one. Sure, $50/month or so add up, especially if your carrier’s gotten you into a 2/3-year commitment with them. The subsidy on the device may seem appealing at first, but by signing that contract you’re locked in with the carrier for a very, very long relationship. Not to mention that you’re also stuck with the device for the amount of time agreed upon. And because good deals usually come with a catch, this subsidized device comes with a minimum monthly payment that the network expects to see in their treasury department every month. You fail to make that payment, you lose. They’ll come after you with interest, cancellation fees, and other undesirable fees that you just so happened to miss while reading the contract. Unfortunately for some people, a contract may be their only choice. Alongside a discounted cost of a device, the company may offer other sweet bonuses just to sign a contract with them for what may seem like an eternity: the promise of a game console, select “free” monthly payments, or if the company offers other telecommunication services for the household, a discount on that monthly bill as well. Contracts provide a valuable source of income for the company, and they’ll do anything affordable to get you in one, especially in this modern day where smartphones are hot-ticket items. You could buy the device outright (no-contract) for several hundred dollars more. Most carriers allow these devices to run on any plan they offer (one that may suit exactly your needs for around $30 cheaper/month) since they were never purchased with agreed upon terms, one of them being a minimum monthly payment. You have total control over what you pay. But what if your carrier doesn’t offer this (for some strange reason)? Or you want to switch to another? You could take one step further and unlock the network lock bound on your device, assuming it wasn’t branded as a “World Phone” (because World Phones are already unlocked). Unlocking a smartphone is 100% legal and can be done very inexpensively on the internet. It’s also very simple: you tell the business your phone’s details and a unique code will be generated based on those details. That code will only work on your phone when a foreign SIM is inserted. It will do no harm to your device and allows your phone to be used on any network in the world that uses a SIM card (providing your phone has a SIM card slot and that its radio antennas are compatible with these networks). It’s very a very handy investment as it allows users to keep in touch with others and use the phone for emergencies when travelling abroad. Word of warning though: if you plan to go down this road, be sure to follow the unlocker’s instructions thoroughly. Some devices only allow 10 attempts at entering the unlock code before permanently locking itself, possibly forcing you to pay a local professional unlocker an expensive amount of cash to render the device usable once more.
“I don’t need the constant connection…I use a phone for the initial purpose it’s designed for, A PHONE!”

Well you’re still in luck! Dumbphones are still being carried on certain carriers, but they don’t take the spotlight and glory anymore. As well as certain inexpensive non-smartphone plans are gradually being discontinued to assimilate light users into paying more. Because let’s face it, smartphone devices are catching on like wildfire. Carriers also offer very low-end “budget” smartphones that require no premium to use, and oftentimes, no data plan required. It has the capabilities that modern mid-range or high-end smartphones can take advantage of, but not very effectively. Still, those resources are present for the customer to make the most of. It’s definitely a step-up from the traditional flip-phone, but it’s not exactly a high-class “superphone” either. It may be just right.

These are three very obvious factors I notice potential buyers have problems making clear sense of. It’s crucial to have a perfect understanding of something big that may influence your everyday activities, especially if a repeated payment is necessary for it to function, and especially if you’re locked into a contract.

The smartphone has come a long way, and it will continue to move forward even farther. Its popularity has soared but this wide adoption will just become another fundamental part of our lives. Technology advances, and its old bits gradually fade out of view. The cellular phone is no exception.

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