How many devices can a smartphone, tablet replace?

Has the smartphone become the quintessential all-in-one device? And if you have both a smartphone and a tablet, where does that leave your laptop?

Does the iPhone obviate a standalone digital camera or the need for a landline phone? How fungible is a MacBook or GPS device? Those are questions I wrestle with, and they are questions that a recent survey provide some feedback on.

The iPhone 4 has a pretty sophisticated camera for a smartphone.
The iPhone 4 has a pretty sophisticated camera for a smartphone. James Martin/CNET

It is almost axiomatic now to say that smartphones have become the digital equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife. And like that venerable knife, a smartphone fits in your pocket and goes with you anywhere. That combination of instant accessibility and utility means it replaces the standalone digital and video camera in many instances.

Certainly that's the case for my iPhone. And the iPhone 4's camera is increasingly sophisticated, tapping into cutting-edge technologies like backside illumination --the same technology, in fact, that my standalone Kodak Z990 digicam uses.

Then there are more obvious, longstanding replacement trends like rendering a standalone MP3 player or GPS device unnecessary. But is it a landline phone replacement? Not for me, though I have plenty of business acquaintances who have done this with their smartphones.

Tablets are a different creature. They straddle the laptop and smartphone worlds: less portable than a smartphone (you can't put a tablet in your pocket) but more luggable than a laptop. In my case, my iPad goes, roughly speaking, about 80 percent of the places my iPhone goes. My MacBook Air, on the other hand, travels less--probably 50 to 60 percent of those places.

And the iPad plays into a different replacement dynamic than my iPhone. My iPad replaces, for example, a newspaper or a hardcover book (the iPhone replaces neither, in my case). And it can replace the MacBook Air for light productivity at airports, conferences, and when working from the car (due to both its portability and built-in 3G).

Of course, I'm just one idiosyncratic user. The results of a survey published this week by Prosper Mobile Insights offer a much broader look at how people are using more versatile devices to replace more specialized technologies.

Here are the study's results, showing how many respondents have replaced specific devices by a smartphone or tablet:

  • Alarm clock: 61.1 percent
  • GPS: 52.3 percent
  • Digital camera: 44.3 percent
  • Personal planner: 41.6 percent
  • Landline phone: 40.3 percent
  • MP3 player: 37.6 percent
  • Video camera: 34.2 percent
  • Newspaper: 28.2 percent
  • Radio: 27.5 percent
  • Desktop/Laptop computer: 24.2 percent
  • Gaming device: 20.8 percent
  • Books: 20.1 percent
  • Internet service at home: 19.5 percent
  • DVD player: 14.1 percent

Source: Prosper Mobile Insights Mobile Survey, June-2011

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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