Why I didn’t buy a smart phone

After about five months of dawdling and painfully attempting to use the verizon online store, I’ve finally removed myself from my parents wireless plan and taken responsibility for my own cell service.

It probably seems like waiting until nearly a year after graduation to take control for my own cell service is a little long, but I’ve always been slow in the cell phone sphere. I didn’t own a phone until freshmen year of college, and my cell technology has always been a bit behind the curve. This is mostly because I couldn’t really justify buying a new expensive phone when most of my cells only lasted about a year before falling prey to hurricanes, the washer and dryer, and the toliet (don’t ask). However, as I was contemplating my new cell phone plan, I’d managed to hold onto my current cell for about two years, so it seemed like I might finally be in a position to upgrade without flushing my money down the tolient (literally).

I spent alot of time researching phones and plans, bouncing from website to website, hitting up cnet for reviews, in general trying to make myself as well informed about the complicated world of cellphones as I could. I flip flopped back and forth between various phones, plans and strategies, changing my mind up until the night before I went to actually do the transfer. The approach I eventually decided on? Sign up for a month to month plan with only minutes and unlimited text messaging, no data, and stick with the same over two year old phone I already have.

Considering my love of all things tech, and my information centric lifestyle this probably seems like an odd choice. And don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a smart phone. I am definitely envious of my friends who carry around the iPhone, and have avidly snapped up all the andriod demos I can on you tube. But I don’t regret my decision, and I maintain that I’ve made the best choice for the situation.

Part of it is financial, with the down turn of the economy folks at work have had to make sacrifices, and my pay has suffered accordingly. I didn’t really feel like I could justify the outlay for a new expensive phone, or the month to month data plan cost. But honestly, that’s not the major part, and even if I’m still in the same place financially a year or so from now, I’ll probably go for the smart phone.

Simply put, I think now is probably the worst possible time to get a smart phone. Now let me put a caveat here, I can’t currently go for the two sexiest smart phones on the market, the iPhone or an Andriod phone. I’m tethered to Verizion because my girlfriend is on a Verizon family plan with her parents. Verizon is also one of the only carriers who has good coverage at the places we both consistently spend time.  Now there are plenty of smart phones left on the verizon network, but I believe that all of them represent a dying breed.

These kind of cell phones are more like a stereo system or DVD player. You buy them and they come with a predefined set of features. If you want new functions, you have to upgrade to a new model. The features are tied directly to the hardware. Ultimately, this is a fairly ridiculous arrangement. Cell phones are literally tiny computers, capable of the same kind of flexibility as your laptop or PC.

Right now there are really only two phones on the market that get this, the iPhone, and Andriod. Now I know everyone is ready to point out that Andriod is not a phone, and you’re right, but in some ways that only proves the point. The phone market is about to become more like the PC market. The hardware will be important, but it will not be more important than the software.  The first quesiton we’ll ask about any phone will be “What’s it running?” and therefore what ecosystem of third party applications do we have access to. The manufacturer will become a secondary concern, certainly important, but not the material of fan-boy flame wars.

We can see this in just how quickly the iPhone has gobbled up market share. As of Feburary last year, the iPhone had a 28% share of the smart phone market. That put it only second to RIM’s blackberry, and well ahead of Microsoft’s windows mobile platform. The other big players are catching up to the importance of opening up and encouraging third party development on their platforms.  RIM has already opened its own app store and Microsoft has made it clear they intend to open one of their own.

What all this means is that the new cell phone market is about to get very crowded. And hopefully, all things being equal, that means prices will drop. For me, getting in now would mean paying a hefty early adopters fee, both in terms of monetary costs, and in the sort of frustration that always accompanies new technologies. Those who have the freedom to go with AT&T and the iPhone can avoid some of this by going for the most mature phone of this bunch, but I simply have too many reasons to stick with Verizon.

So I’m holding out, hunkering down with my data starved phone for a year or so to see where the chips fall. I’m hoping my patience pays off, giving me all the features at a cheaper price, and with time to really evaluate who the market winner is.

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