In the past decade our mobile devices have taken huge strides, transforming from crude keypad driven monoliths to touch- enabled, hi- tech marvels before our very eyes. These days it’s unthinkable that we could go about our daily business without our trusty smartphones in hand, but for all the improvements in specs, are we getting left behind by our devices?
For all the leaps in computational capabilities, the vast majority of us still use our devices mainly for just a handful of things. Calling and texting obviously remain a staple, but internet and email use are now right up there with the standard capabilities expected from any modern smartphone, and you’d have to go back a long way to find a device that wasn’t more than up to those tasks.
Beyond that, though, what exactly
are we using our smartphones for? According to a study conducted by Catalyst Mobile Research, 68% of Canadians now own a smartphones compared to around 18% just five years ago, so it’s fair to say that the devices have more than made their mark on modern culture. Of those users, many now use their devices as the go to for a number of tasks that were previously reserved for more traditional computers or even printed materials. Some of the most popular tasks Canadians now rely on their smartphones for include searching for product information while out shopping ( 70%), navigation ( 50%), checking the weather ( 47%), social media ( 51%), checking sports scores ( 34%) and restaurant recommendations ( 34%), but none of these are particularly taxing on our devices, and certainly don’t make use of the abundance of power now available at our fingertips. That’s where apps come in to play. While the bulk of the functionality mentioned above comes built in with most handsets these days, it’s app markets like Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store that plays host to the kind of software that’ll really allow you to make your device sing and dance. With countless games, utilities, content sources and quirky oddities available both for free and for a ( usually) small fee, there’s almost limitless choice available these days to Canadian consumers - which makes it all the more interesting that, since last year, the average number of apps installed on Canadian smartphones has plunged by 26% from 25.57 to just 18.82. Similarly, we’ve seen a reduction of 52% in the amount of apps
downloaded by users each month, to just 2.57. It’s clear that, despite the increase in resources in modern smartphones, Canadians are using these devices less and less to their potential, and as the specs continue to increase it would appear that the gulf between what we can do and what we actually do will only increase in size. Why, then, are we continuing to gobble up the latest smartphones in our droves? Apple needs only announce a new iteration of its iPhone to have lineups around street corners outside its stores, while Android flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S6 continue to perform better than expected on an annual basis. Somewhere along the line smartphones have become far more about potential performance than actual performance. The octa- core CPU in the Galaxy S6, for example, coupled with its 3GB of RAM and minimum 32GB of storage space, hints are incredible things. From almost console- quality games through to increasingly sophisticated mobile applications that could potentially go headtohead with their desktop counterparts, we’re seeing an exponential increase in handheld power and rushing out to pay for the privilege of owning these devices… before resorting to using just email, internet, calls, texts, social media and the occasional sports or weather update app. With users now uninstalling more apps each month than they download, it’s possible that users are finally starting to figure out that the majority of apps are little more than skinned websites, relaying the same information albeit in a slightly easier- to- digest format. The deluge of intrusive push notifications, announcements and updates may also be playing a major role in the decision to remove apps at an unprecedented rate, as the novelty begins to wear off and users instead opt to glean information when they choose to, not when an app tells them they should. We technophiles love having the latest and greatest hardware. We get a thrill from knowing that our handset has out- benchmarked other high- end devices. We fantasize about the future applications for our super powered smartphones. But, at the end of the day, it seems that we’re just as bad as everyone else for forking over not insubstantial sums of money for the shiniest pieces of kit and then simply not using them to even a fraction of
their potential. The idea that we need faster CPUs and more advanced GPUs is one that’s pushed on us by handset manufacturers and operating system creators. Each year we typically see a couple of “major” upgrades to both iOS and Android, with each promising all- new ways to interact with the digital world at large, streamlined interfaces that’ll make our experience a joy and fancy new graphical embellishments to make everything seem new and shiny - and you’ve got to have the latest hardware to take advantage of all these new bells and whistles, right? From a financial standpoint it makes perfect sense for these companies. If the general public knew that, technically, a high end smartphone purchased now should be up to the task of doing everything most users would need from it for 4- 5 years then there’d be a massive reduction in the amount of revenue made annually. Instead, it’s a much more sensible option to push out a new model annually, accompanied by all the marketing hyperbole and bluster that we’ve come to expect. What does this mean for Canadian smartphone users, though? How about next time you find yourself starting to feel that “new tech” itch, instead of running down to your nearest phone store and tying yourself up in another multiyear contract, you stop and consider what it is you actually use your smartphone for. If your answer amounts to little more than calls, texts, web browsing, email, social media and a handful of apps ( like the majority of Canadians), then perhaps an upgrade isn’t quite as essential as you had first thought!