A business case to get shot of smartphones

The Psion is dead; long live the Psion. The Planet Computers reboot is interesting but not the true heir to the 5mx.

Technology conferences can be interesting for unexpected reasons. Keynote speeches rarely offer dramatic surprises, product demonstrations may or may not be helpful for attendees at the sharp end, but talking to people and observing their behaviour can yield new insights.

Peter Wüst, senior director of the Emerging Solutions & Innovation Group at NetApp, tapped me on the shoulder prior to starting his presentation at Insight 2017 in Berlin and said, “Wow, that's really cool!”

He was talking about the Psion 5mx open on the desk in front of me, which I was using to take notes. He asked about its battery life (about a month of normal usage), then surprised me by showing me his new Swiss dumbphone, saying, “It's an expensive way to do very little!”

He calls the phone his 'personal firewall' since it's a way of avoiding pings and notifications all the time. “Not even WhatsApp, it just does phone calls and texts.” About my Psion and his phone, he joked, “So appliances are coming back into fashion!”

I'd thought I was an anachronism for not carrying a smartphone, but Wüst told me he had the same mindset. He doesn't need or want an all-singing, all-dancing pocket computer, just a tool that does one or two jobs well; an appliance, in other words. Then a German IT journalist chipped in to say that his colleague also carries a dumbphone. Dutch and Belgian journalists then complained about constant notifications from their smartphones, wanting to disable them entirely. Nick Thurlow, head of NetApp UK, lusted after the 5mx that evening, asking me to bring it to the conference the next day so he could play with it.

There was a time when distraction-free mobile computing was a joke. If I'd brought out a Psion 5mx five years ago I'd have been laughed at due to it being old, out of date tech. “No smartphone? Loser!”

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