The Light Phone, seen here, is about the size of a credit card, can last up to 20 days on a single charge and only makes phone calls. It’s among a small niche in the phone market that favours stylish design and purposefully lacks bells and whistles. (The Light Phone)
For those who remember flip phones, there’s something undeniably nostalgic about the simple 90s-era technology. They only buzzed for calls and texts, were free of time-consuming apps and could end conversations with a satisfying snap.
The age of flip phones may be far gone, but a quiet revolution of “anti-smartphones” has recently emerged on the market, offering low-tech but stylish solutions to the purported stressors of modern digital life.
- See spec details for each “anti-smartphone” below
The Light Phone is a credit-card sized phone that never beeps or vibrates unless someone calls. It is designed to be connected to a user’s primary smartphone and, through an app, forwards phone calls.
The MP 01 by Punkt does a little bit more. The Swiss-made device can send and receive texts and phone calls and act as an alarm clock, but that’s it.
Then there’s the circular Runcible, made by Berkeley, Cali.-based company Monohm. Inventors are wary to call the palm-sized device a phone, since it connects to phone services via a separate Bluetooth device, and instead use the term “heirloom electronic.” Designed after the pocket watch, the Runcible still allows users to surf the web or use apps, but it‘s designed to be quiet and never interrupt users.
In an era when Apple unveils its newest iPhone models on a yearly basis, why opt for a phone without the latest bells and whistles? CTV technology analyst Carmi Levy says dumbed-down phones have a certain niche appeal, and they aren’t just attractive to elderly consumers anymore.
“Beyond the senior demographic, there’s a bit of a pushback against technology that’s too complex for its own good. And we’re seeing it at the fringes of the phone market in rising demand for simple phones that remind us of days gone by,” Levy told CTVNews.ca.
Devices like Runcible, the Light Phone and MP 01 are directly marketed towards a younger demographic. Both Runcible and the Light Phone began as online crowd-funding initiatives, with backers given a device in return for financial support.
Levy says the phones are “ideal” for younger consumers looking to make a statement with their handheld device.
“There’s probably a small percentage of younger consumers out there who would absolutely love to have something that none of their friends or colleagues have,” Levy said.
“They’re not deliberately cheap, they’re not stripped down, they’re actual design statements … I think they’re just as fashionable as a pair of shoes or that coat that they bought.”
Gauging smartphone stress
The toll of smartphone usage on stress levels has been widely contested, and research on smartphone stress is still in its early stages. But some recent studies suggest that too much screen time could reduce sleep, impact work-life balance and negatively affect brain function.
At McGill University, researchers presented several studies that suggest that reliance on GPS programs – like Google Maps or Apple Maps – can negatively impact a user’s hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps people navigate using visual memory.
Researchers from Michigan State University found that people who checked their smartphones for work-related purposes after 9 p.m. were more tired and less alert at their jobs the next day. Researchers credited their findings to mental stimulation from smartphones that made it difficult for subjects to relax and fall asleep.
Levy insists these anti-smartphones won’t eclipse smartphone sales anytime soon, but he agrees that there’s a certain appeal to bare-bones tech.
“The promise of technology is that it’ll improve our lives, but sometimes we become enslaved to the technology because there’s so much going on,” he said. “A certain part of our brain is always looking for something that is perhaps simpler … and delivers as promised with fewer frustrations.”
Still, Levy says it’s too early to say whether these pared-down devices will take off, simply because they’re so new.
“These will never have mainstream appeal within any demographic within any consumer group, but the question is: is there enough demand? Do they have enough features to keep mainstream millennial consumers interested? And I think for that the question remains unanswered.”
As for the bygone flip phone, there’s some evidence that they aren’t totally extinct. According to recent figures from the International Data Corporation, a U.S. research firm, an additional two million “feature phones” – phones that simply make calls and texts – were sold in 2015 in the U.S., an increase from the previous year.
By the numbers
THE LIGHT PHONE
HOW DESIGNERS DESCRIBE IT: “Unlike a basic flip phone, Light won’t allow you to text, email or anything, it is the most simple phone designed specifically to work with your existing smartphone.”
SIZE: 4.5 mm thick (advertised as “the world’s thinnest phone”)
COST: $100 USD
STAGE OF PRODUCTION: Available for pre-order with shipping beginning in the summer of 2016.
APPEAL: Clean design, fits inside wallet, can last 20 days on a single charge.
POSSIBLE DOWNSIDE: Doesn’t support texting,
COLOURS: White, and a black version called “Night” is in the works.
HOW DESIGNERS DESCRIBE IT: “Featuring a first-of-its-kind fully round screen and a palm-sized form factor, Runcible is modeled on devices humans have carried around with them and loved for hundreds or thousands of years: the pocket watch, the compact, the compass, the magical stone in your hand.”
SIZE: 2.5-inch display, fits in the palm of the hand.
COST: $399 to $599 USD, depending on the model
STAGE OF PRODUCTION: Available in fall of 2016, open for pre-order.
APPEAL: Wi-Fi-connectivity, unique wooden backing,
POSSIBLE DOWNSIDE: For those truly looking to disconnect, the allure of Internet connectivity may be a deal-breaker.
COLOURS: Dark grey plastic or wooden backings, including a “Sinker Redwood” salvaged from Mendocino, Cali.
HOW DESIGNERS DESCRIBE IT: “The Punkt. MP 01 is a stylish, well-crafted mobile phone which focuses on modern simplicity, inside and out. It makes phone calls and sends texts. That’s all.”
SIZE: 14.5 mm thick
COST: $295 USD
STAGE OF PRODUCTION: Available for sale.
APPEAL: “Bespoke ringtones” by Norwegian sound artist Kjetil Røst Nilsen, an alarm clock.
POSSIBLE DOWNSIDE: Users must acquaint themselves with the phone’s keypad shortcuts to access features such as call history, voicemail and hands-free mode.