Do you really need the newest, shiniest smartphone?

Cutting edge smartphones dominate tech headlines, but the differences from one smartphone to the next won't fundamentally change your life

The demand for the iPhone 4S has been overwhelming. Apple has shattered previous sales records, and seems on track to sell three or four million of the new iPhone 4S just this weekend. Obviously there are many who can't wait to get the latest Apple smartphone, but if you're expecting it--or any other new smartphone--to change your life, you’d better think again.

A new study from Qumu, conducted by Harris Interactive, finds that 88 percent believe the release of new smartphones is an event that matters. The survey goes on to break down various groups of people that a new smartphone is likely to matter to: tech geeks, business people, working moms, etc.

The question in my mind, though, is "matters how?" If we're talking about someone with no mobile phone, or someone who is still using an old-school flip or feature phone, then I would agree that a smartphone is a fundamental improvement that these various groups would benefit from. However, if we're talking about people who already have an older iPhone or Android smartphone I would debate just how much a newer one "matters".

Smartphones Are a Minority

You wouldn't guess it from the tech headlines or general media hype, but most people don't have a smartphone at all. Recent numbers from comScore show that just over a third of mobile phone users in the United States have a smartphone.

That means there is still two-thirds of the population that just wants a mobile phone to make phone calls. They don't want to incur the costs that come with the mandatory data plan required with most smartphones, and they don't care about having 500,000 apps available. They just want to make a phone call when necessary, and don't really care about iOS 5, Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango", or Android "Ice Cream Sandwich".

A Smartphone Is a Smartphone

Even among those who do have a smartphone, the frenzy around new devices, and the zealotry associated with the various platforms seems over the top. When push comes to shove they all do about the same thing in about the same way.

In the past few months I have had a fair amount of cross-platform experience. I have used the iPhone for the past few years. But, my son recently got a Motorola Atrix with Android "Gingerbread", I got a Motorola Xoom tablet running Android "Honeycomb", and I spent a month using a Samsung Focus with Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango".

There are things I like, and things I dislike about each. Ultimately, though, they are all capable mobile operating systems running on capable hardware. I'm a sucker for the cutting edge bells and whistles, so I pre-ordered the iPhone 4S. But, the reality is that I could still be using my iPhone 3GS from a few years ago and it would make very little difference.

That is one of the reasons that I think the news that Apple is going to offer the iPhone 3GS for free with a two year contract is actually bigger news than the iPhone 4S. Newer, faster hardware is nice to some extent for those who can afford it, but it won't change your life.

Find the platform that works best for you, get yourself a device that fits your needs, and go with it. You don't need to convince me that yours is better than mine, or explain to me why my choice is "wrong", and you don't need to run out and get the newest, shiniest smartphone every six months.

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Tags smart phonesAppleconsumer electronicsMangosmartphonesAndroidiPhone 4S

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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