Stop Calling Your Smart Phone a Phone

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Eric Thayer / Reuters

Talk is cheap — and now unlimited. Verizon is hedging its future on the consumption of data because, let’s face it, who uses their phone as just a phone these days?

Verizon’s new Share Everything plan allows customers to pay for a certain amount of data and distribute that data among their devices. (You can register up to 10 devices to a single account.) Customers must both purchase a data package and pay for each registered device. As a result, the plan can be pretty steep — $40 per month for your iPhone, plus $10 for your iPad, plus $10 for that Kindle your parents got you for Christmas, plus the cost of data. However, Verizon says, there’s an upside: the plan also offers unlimited calling and texting. But does anyone really need an endless fount of minutes?

As critics dissect the new scheme, one thing is clear: Verizon is capitalizing on the fact that we are no longer making phone calls. The money, Verizon has realized, is in the data — the videos we download, the websites we peruse, the e-mails we send. According to Nielsen, the amount of data consumed per month by the average smart-phone user grew 89% in 2011. And it’s still growing.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson predicted last week that cell-phone companies would enter the market with data-only plans in the next two years. Stephenson was probably thinking of an obvious solution to his company’s own problems: AT&T has recently been recording a decline in the average number of minutes used on phone calls per month. Right now, phone companies still earn most of their money from calling and texting plans. So as the popularity of calling and texting falls off in favor of e-mail and BBMing, cell-phone companies are going to have to find ways to make up for their loss in profit. Charging more for data use is the obvious solution.

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Of course, we shouldn’t completely abandon the good old-fashioned phone call. Sensitive material and long conversations cannot always be condensed into a series of e-mails. And the breakup text is still so not classy. But we’re using our phones so little for actual talking that Verizon’s happy to offer its customers unlimited calls and texts for cheap.

So at what point do we stop calling our cell phones “phones”? Paradoxically, advances in our smart phones are making the phone itself obsolete. We use our cell phones to plan our lives, to gather and send information and to entertain ourselves. But we rarely use them to make phone calls. A character on the TV show The League griped about dropped calls on his smart phone in an episode in December: “The app I want for my phone is Phone.” Similar jokes are popular among iPhone users. But dropped calls and mediocre service is of little concern to many smart-phone customers who prioritize the ability to track their route on the subway or check their e-mail on the go over actually making phone calls. I currently have around 90 apps on my phone, and I use most of those more than my phone’s phone function.

So even though it’s too early to officially mourn the death of phones, it may be time to stop referring to smart phones as smart phones.

MORE: Verizon’s New ‘Share Everything’ Plans: Good Deal or Total Rip-Off?