Are smartphones subject to the same retro recoil which has seen eBooks and eReader sales falter as consumers increasingly reach for ‘old fashioned’ technology?
Our infatuation with smartphones is just shy of a decade old, and yet it seems the grip these powerful gadgets have over us is beginning to loosen. iPhone sales are falling for the first time since forever and smartphone sales in general are beginning to stutter as market analysts point to market saturation, digital weariness, and cultural tastes giving retro tech a boost.
‘Switching off’ from digital has become de rigueur in the last couple of years as consumers’ interest in the digital revolution and, in particular, smartphone technology appears to be waning. Digital detox camps are all the rage these days, as willing punters shuffle off to the countryside, ceremonially ‘hand-over’ their gadgets as they disconnect with modernity and reconnect with Mother Nature.
But what’s behind this waning enthusiasm for smartphone technology? Is it simply over-exposure to a product which, despite giving millions of people access to resources and services, is continually being upgraded, repackaged and aggressively marketed to a weary audience? Or could it be that retro tech ticks functional, aesthetic and societal boxes which modern smartphone technology cannot?
Rejecting mainstream technology is certainly not a recent phenomenon and is not restricted to just our mobile phones. Each new dawn in consumer technology is inevitably met with a recoil action ‘back to the old-school’.
Retro mobile phones in particular have always played a significant part in the cultural patchwork of Generation Y and the modern digital world. Ever since our mobile phones turned smart in the mid-noughties, there has existed pockets of youth culture clinging on to the kitschy plastic models of yesteryear. A quick search on eBay or mobile trade sites shows there is still a thriving market for second-hand ‘dumb’ phones.
For some people this retro stance is due to our complex relationship with consumer technology whereby the hardware with which we surround ourselves becomes an extension of our personality and self-image. To pull a Nokia 3310 nonchalantly from your pocket in a room full of iPhone users, is to make a point. Nobody is quite sure what this point is, but a point is certainly being made.
Substance over style
Alongside the stylistic virtues of traditional feature phones expounded by many, there also remains a stronghold of believers that traditional feature phones not only look better than modern smartphones, but are also functionally superior.
Billions of smartphone users around the world now carry a supercomputer in their pockets as mobile technology becomes ever more sophisticated. But despite the obvious technological bells & whistles on-board today’s tech, much of the basic functional telephony elements have either stood still or, in some cases like battery-life, gone backwards. This is why humble brick-phones from yesteryear refuse to die – there will always exist a group of users in any tech market that require, indeed actively seek out, the ‘no frills’ model.
Subsequently, there is now a growing market for mobile phones which hark back to the pre-smartphone era where phones were simply phones and did nothing beyond make calls and send text messages. The new Punkt M01, for example, boasts an impressive three weeks of battery life at a time when the modern smartphone barely lasts longer than a day.
When will retro tech die?
There will always remain pockets within consumer technology markets whose tastes lean towards the vintage, whether that be for practical or stylistic reasons.
And, like all powerful new technologies, the fixation we once felt towards our smartphones has evolved into an everyday familiarity. We no longer stare, goggle-eyed in awe, at each wondrous new release from the likes of Apple and Samsung, but we still ritualistically hand over our cash to ensure we own the latest cutting-edge tech.