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(Dis)connected for the moment: The anti-smart phone

Posted by Flux on 

3 October 2018

What’s trending now
The rise of digital mindfulness is manifesting in devices whose core focus is on less technology in order to create space for more real-world engagement. This trend has emerged from the growing conversation around ‘digital wellness’. As concerns mount about the adverse effects of smartphone and social media addiction , the burning question is how to address this?

Silicon Valley has responded to these concerns in recent months by releasing updates to various operating systems. Apple’s recent iOS12 update monitors how much time is spent using apps on your iPhone, with options available to limit this. Google’s answer to this is Android P – its latest mobile operating system – which seeks to get people to use their devices less and make them work for you rather than against you.

Another solution are devices known as ‘dumb phones’ or feature phones with a core focus on ‘less for more’. Created under the guise of ultra-minimalism in both design and functionality, this sub-category of device targets a growing group of consumers who are forgoing the digital rat race and purchasing high-end feature phones without smartphone features – namely, social media and messaging applications. In an age when we have become saturated by information and technology, there is a growing market of consumers looking to disconnect and focus on life – rather than capture and post it.

Why it’s important:
Smartphones originally served as a means of capturing and being connected to the world at any given time, in any given place. The idea of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) grew out of this hyper-connected world. However, as the song says, the times they are a changing.

The term “JOMO” (joy of missing out) – announced to the world at Google’s I/O conference earlier this year – signals a mindset shift in Silicon Valley about how people are using their devices.

In conjunction with this growing concern around psychological wellness, are concerns around finance. Smartphone sales continue to slow , with many reports and analysts estimating that we’ve reached ‘peak smartphone’ and that sales will continue to decline. Manufacturers have responded by increasing the suggested retail price of their devices, with the likes of last year’s iPhone X starting at $999. If this growing group of consumers are holistically ‘woke’, they are likely to be both digitally and financially conscious, so high prices will probably not go down well.

The anti-smartphone brands are also positioned to win in a space where their high-tech competitors cannot compete: offline is the new luxury. To further illustrate the point, a recent study concluded that the average person spends 23 days a year on their phone, equating to almost 3.9 years of life. For those needing a digital detox, these devices might provide the answer.

The anti-smartphones are said to eliminate distraction in order to create focus, and in a world of distractions and notifications via more ‘smart’ enabled devices, the idea of more focus is indeed a luxury.

The butterfly effect:
As the conversation around digital wellness continues to gain traction, so too will the popularity of these devices. For the time being brands have marketed their devices as companions to customers’ existing smartphones – a means to unplug without being completely off the grid. The idea that these devices could be the primary means of communication is frightening for some – but don’t be surprised if at your next meeting, you see someone take a call on the modernised version of the Nokia 8110 or the Punkt devices.

The pioneers and global hotspots:
While the major players from Apple to Samsung are putting their energy into delivering more high-end smartphones, a celebrated brand like Nokia – now owned by HMD Global – is balancing nostalgia with relevant technology in its 8110 device, also known affectionately as the new banner phone. While the device is enabled with 4G and according to rumours, could soon become compatible with WhatsApp , the core focus is still on less is more.
At the extreme end of the spectrum is the brand Punkt. Based in Switzerland its ideology is centred around “bringing a breath of fresh air into the consumer electronics market with outstanding, timeless products designed to do their job, without intruding on their owner’s time and attention.” Their recently launched MP02 still retains the core essential functions like texting and phone calls, but with 4G LTE connectivity and the option of data-linking to a secondary device like a tablet or laptop.

Following a similar philosophy, is the Brooklyn-based Light Phone. Having already sold 10,000 devices of its first iteration, the start-up has used the feedback of its very loyal customer to formulate the Light Phone II . Set to launch in April 2019 the device is marketed as a “simple 4G phone with e-ink, messaging & other essential tools—a phone that actually respects you.” Having garnered over 600% of required funding for the device on crowdfunding website Indiegogo, it’s safe to say that there is a market and many consumers are hungry to (dis)connect.

Above: Introducing Light Phone II, going light.

By Jordan Major

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About Jordan

Jordan Major is a Creative Strategist, who solves problems and finds solutions through a combination of trend forecasting, insight mining and complete immersion across culture. As a Creative Strategist he functions in both method and madness, through understanding the “why” before producing the “what” in conceptualising strategically informed work. Outside of his work in the world of brand and communications, he is a published writer having contributed for the likes of GQ, GQ Style and 10and5.


Image credit: BBC News
Video credit: The Light Phone

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