10 things killed by the smartphone

It's a lean, mean killing machine, and it can't be stopped. The dead include MP3 players and personal video players.

Cisco's recent announcement that it was closing its Flip mini-camcorder business got us thinking. It's pretty clear that today's smartphones, with their excellent HD video cameras, are partly to blame for the Flip's demise. But how many other consumer products and services -- digital or analog -- are being killed off by the big, bad smartphone?

We've assembled a list of likely victims here. If you know of other smartphone-induced casualties, please tell us in the Comments section -- or contact your local law enforcement authorities. Let's start with the most obvious victims...

MP3 Players

When was the last time you carried a digital music player that couldn't do a dozen other things, too? When Apple unveiled the original iPhone in 2007, the die was cast: Portable audio devices incapable of doubling as gaming machines and Web browsers (see: iPod Touch) would slowly fade away. And the latest iPod Touch, which includes FaceTime video chat, is essentially a Wi-Fi video phone itself. Yes, the iPod Classic is still around, but its days may be numbered. And though Apple continues to ring up immense profits, its iPod business has been in decline for some time.

Portable Game Consoles

The Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP are still selling, but these portable game gadgets seem like relics from an era when people used cell phones strictly to make and receive calls. Today's smartphone, of course, is a gaming juggernaut: App stores for Apple and Android handsets offer tens of thousands of games. So why carry around a separate game console? And though console makers are stepping up their efforts, the smartphone guys are right there with them. Do you crave a new Nintendo 3DS for glasses-free 3D gaming? Well, 3D smartphones like the LG Thrill and HTC EVO 3D promise a similar thrill.

Point-and-Shoot Cameras

An inexpensive point-and-shoot like the $250 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V probably takes better pictures than your smartphone. But before long, the humble phone camera will match or surpass the photographic prowess of its point-and-shoot brethren. The latest handsets -- in particular, the iPhone 4 -- capture crisp, clear images that many users consider suitable for scrapbooks and slideshows. Pretty soon, you'll park the point-and-shoot in the closet for good.

Personal Video Players

Remember Archos's lineup of portable media players? How about Apple's iPod Video 5th Generation? Both were built for video and audio consumption, two capabilities that have since migrated to the jack-of-all-trades smartphone. And today's plus-size handsets, such as the HTC ThunderBolt -- with high-resolution, 4-inch-or-larger displays and 4G data speeds capable of handling HD video streaming -- are the final nail in the coffin. The stand-alone portable media player is a goner.

Voice Recorders

"Note to self: Buy jacket with extra pockets to hold voice recorder, PDA, cell phone..." That's a voice memo from my digital recorder, circa 2001. Okay, not really -- but my point is that stand-alone voice recorders were yet another digital device to carry around. No wonder they've gone the way of the PDA (see below). Dirt-cheap recorders such as the $29 Sony ICD-BX800 and the $54 Olympus VN-8100PC persist, but a smartphone with an app like the free RecForge Free (for Android) or the $2 Voice Record (for iPhone) is the sensible choice for any pocket-challenged gadget lover.

Portable GPS Navigation Devices

Why buy a separate GPS device for your car when your smartphone can perform the same tasks? Portable navigation hardware from major GPS players such as Garmin, Magellan, and TomTom are have grown more powerful and more affordable, but GPS-enabled smartphones deliver similar functionality. Interestingly, GPS vendors may be contributing to the demise of their portable devices by offering apps like Garmin's StreetPilot, which provides turn-by-turn directions for smartphone users. Hey, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Personal Digital Assistant (PDA)

It manages your contacts! It has a to-do list! It tracks expenses! Yes, the PDA was a handy contrivance back in the day when a 25-pound desktop PC and a 50-pound CRT monitor seemed welded to every workstation. But as cellphones began to acquire PDA capabilities in 2001, it became obvious that the phoneless digital assistant's days were numbered. Today, the term "PDA" sounds as anachronistic as "Pocket PC." Then again, today's smartphones are pocket PCs, aren't they?

Wristwatch

Ever see a twenty-something rocking a wristwatch as a necessity, rather than as a fashion accessory? Probably not. The smartphone has become the 21st Century pocket watch, while the wristwatch has become, well, your father's timepiece. This may change, however, if tech-savvy watchmakers succeed in rekindling consumer interest in the arm-ready timekeeper. In fact, the wristwatch's resurgence may already be underway, at least in some geek circles. Sony introduced an Android-based wristwatch last year, and some clever techies have managed to turn the multitouch iPod Nano into a watch.

Paper Maps

When's the last time you bought a paper map? Do you still use them? A smartphone devotee may unfold a map every now and then, but only as a navigational tool of last resort. Mobile map apps from Google, MapQuest, and Bing provide directions, satellite images, and search tools that paper can't match. But it's wise to keep a paper map on hand as a backup, especially if you're driving in an area where wireless signals are weak. And GPS mapping tools have been known to give bad directions every once in a while.

411 Directory Assistance

A recent New York Times article lamented the lost art of the phone call, but what about the 411 call? A savvy smartphone user is more likely to access free online tools such as Google's voice search than to make a traditional directory-assistance call. Old habits die hard, however. According to a Snopes.com from October 2010, U.S. consumers were still placing about 6 billion calls to 411 services per year, even though phone companies had switched to charging $1 or more per call. Nevertheless, the directory assistance of the future seems likely to be automated, online, and (maybe) free.

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Tags smartphonesAppleGPSPhonesgamesconsumer electronicsdigital camerasportable media playersCisco SystemsHandheldsHandhelds / PDAsMedia players / recordersDigital camcorders

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
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