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Complaining About the Smartphone: a Lesson in Diminishing Returns

Photo: Jupiterimages

In the Times, Sam Grobar has written a great article — a great screed, really — about how much people love to complain about their smartphones even though they accomplish so much for so little cost. The gist:

Consider what a smartphone can do, and the devices it replaces, and its value increases. A refurbished iPhone 3GS is currently on sale by AT&T for $19. With the least-expensive data and voice plans and a two-year contract, a customer would pay around $1,800 over 24 months, including taxes and fees.
But to do all the things a smartphone can do without buying one, that same consumer would need to buy the following:
A cellphone (at least $800 over 24 months: $20 for a device, plus $25 or more per month on a prepaid plan, plus taxes and fees).
A mobile e-mail reader ($430: the Peek 9, an e-mail reader, is $70; two years of service costs $360).
A music player (an iPod Nano is $149).
A point-and-shoot camera (around $200).
A camcorder (around $200).
A GPS unit (they start at $80).
A portable DVD player (they start at $60).
A voice recorder (around $40).
A watch (around $30).
A calculator (around $10).
Total cost: $1,999

You would also need a sherpa to carry around all that gear, rather than slipping it into your pocket in one little box.
I shouldn’t be surprised by this any more but I still am: why, with so much progress in the world on so many dimensions, is there so much complaining about the very fruits of that progress?
The only answer I can come up with is that there are sharply diminishing returns on satisfaction. Other explanations?