The Multifunction Wonder Device: What Has Your Smartphone Replaced?

Mobile phones are a big part of most people’s lives, but have you considered what this jack-of-all-trades product has crushed in its rise?

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I have never been a fan of multifunction devices, whether it is a toaster with a built-in radio, a washing machine and dryer combo, or television sets with built in VHS or DVD players.

But my smartphone is a little different. The joy of just having one device in your pocket rather than a collection of gadgets makes it easier. Over and over it gets whipped out to perform a function that would otherwise have been performed by something else.

So lets look at what that slim device in your pocket has replaced:

phoneTelephone: At the heart of every mobile phone is its core function, a telephone. Talking without wires has caught on well, although always being available can come back to bite you – with the “sorry it must have been on silent” being a great excuse.

Mobile phones have become so affordable they are taking the place of standard landlines for a lot of people. In the UK, we use our landline for providing ADSL broadband, which is still very big here. Some people only have a landline to serve their broadband connection, otherwise a lot of people would just use their mobile (I would). For the price you pay for “line rental” you can get a very decent mobile handset and contract.

Telephone Boxes: Before the age of having a portable communication device in your pocket, if you were out and about and needed to call home or your friends, you had to rely on public telephone boxes (phone booths for those in the States). For you youngsters reading this, it was a fixed telephone (similar to the one in your house) in a small walk-in box along the street that you had to put money in, with everyone walking by watching you.

The privacy of a little room outside has gone. The mobile age almost killed public telephone boxes overnight, with very few of them still around. Now everyone can hear you discussing what you had for breakfast, in the street, on a bus, or in the cinema. Shhhh, be quiet.

cameraCamera: Snap, snap, snap. How good it’s camera is, is one of the biggest swingers for me. Back when camera phones first came out, the likes of the Sony Ericsson T610 with its paltry 352 x 288 pixel camera took awful postage stamp size pictures, and we sent these grainy poor images pictures via expensive MMS only for the recipient to wonder what it was. But as phones got smarter and better, so did the cameras in them.

Today we are rocking double figure-megapixel, autofocus behemoths with high quality optics, Xenon or dual LED flash with face detection, and various other marvelous tools for those happy snappers with an obsession for taking a photo record of everything and uploading their entire life to Facebook.

For all the professional photographers out there fuming at the thought of people buying camera phones instead of dedicated chunky things – it’s a true fact. Those who just want a fairly decent camera without the expense or bulk of a huge DSLR use their phones.

The bonus also is that you always have your mobile with you. I owned a half decent point-and-click cameras, but I failed to bring it with us so many times it became useless.

camcorderCamcorder: No more lugging a giant black box on your shoulder like you’re are filming the next Hollywood blockbuster. Okay, that might have been the case in the 90s, but even today’s camcorders still fall in to the same category as dedicated cameras, they are big and you have to remember to bring them with you.

The quality of mobile phone video footage has also increased dramatically, with high definition and auto focus quickly becoming standard and retrieving that footage and burning it to DVD has never been easier.

photosPhoto Album: Want to bore your family and friends with countless photos of you on a trip to the Taj Mahal? Now its even easier. Your friends cant make a sharp exit while you go to the cupboard to get the giant folder containing your snaps. Now you just whip your phone out and start scrolling through them. Some phones can even connect to a TV to show off your 300 photos in glorious 30” plus HD, as well as the two hour footage of you trying the local delicacies and being rather ill afterwards.


Calendar: Want to know if you are free next Friday night for drinks with a friend? No longer do you need to rummage through your coat pocket for that dog-eared little book to see if you have already committed to something else.

Just whip your phone out and have a look. The term “pencil it in” is a thing of the past. Once you get home, you can carry on adding dates and appointments on your already-synced calendar on your computer.


Phonebook: Yet another little book in your pocket, this time crammed with names, addresses, and telephone numbers. But wait, your friend Morgan has changed his phone number yet again. No need to scribble the old one out and try to squeeze in the new one when you have a phonebook on your phone. Delete, replace, and sync. You never have to transfer all those numbers to a new book again.


Clock/Watch: I can’t stand it when clocks show different times. One will say 12:55 and another says 12:58. I’m sure it doesn’t take three minutes to walk from room to room. Here in the UK we move our clocks backwards and forwards an hour once a year – but you can never remember if you have done your clock or not. So what actually is the time?

Not for me. I don’t have a clock on the wall or a watch on my wrist. I am reminded of the time by either my phone or my wife’s iMac screensaver, which is set automatically and changes when it needs to. So simple.

alarmAlarm Clock: Remember that little round thing that sat next your bed ticking away soothingly while you slept, ready to ring and wake you from your slumber. Now its your beloved phone ready to vibrate, bleep, or play your favourite piece of music or radio station.

stopwatchStopwatch: Think back to those gym teachers at school, adorned in sportswear any time of the year, armed with a bulky clock hanging from a lanyard round their neck pushing you to do your 100 metres just a bit faster.

Not anymore. Another casualty of the great technology revolution. Perhaps they will now be too busy checking their emails to notice you crawl in last, gasping for breath.

timerTimer: Stuck for a Christmas gift for your mum? You couldn’t go wrong with a novelty kitchen timer in the shape of an egg, a chicken, or a tomato. Not anymore. If you do, you’ll be faced with an “oh that’s nice” when what she is really thinking is I use my phone for that.

calculatorCalculator: Whether it is in the middle of a supermarket or stuck in double mathematics – never again will you think “damn I left my calculator on my desk at home”. The beauty of touch screen phones is it doubles as a giant calculator with the added bonus of turning it landscape automatically brings out the scientific calculator.

torchTorch: A cool new feature for me. My iPhone with iOS 7 now has a pull up menu (a.k.a. Control Centre) that has a torch (flashlight for those in the States) function, allowing me to switch on the camera flash and use it as a torch.

Very handy. Can you ever find your torch when you need it? Not me. I have used my phone so many times to find our giant rabbit, who bounces freely around our garden during the day but quite often gets forgotten about until it is dark. So out comes the phone with its torch feature, and an expedition is set upon.

compassCompass: Out walking with the family or hiking up a mountain doesn’t require you to own a complete survival kit these days. With the magnetometer and accelerometer inside your phone you can now have your own North detecting device without going to an outdoor living store – and the bonus of looking like you are just checking your emails rather than puzzling over which direction to go.

mapsMaps: Talking of directions, your slick glass-fronted device has stopped the need to buy a giant fold out map of every city in your country and replace them every year. Goodbye A-Z.


googleGPS Device: Coupled with the paper map replacement, you could say good-bye to that SatNav box suckered to the windscreen of your car by using your mobile instead. Along with your box you could also get rid of that passenger in the car next to you bellowing directions at you blaming you when you “should have gone left down there”.

A calm voice now gives you clear directions prior to when you need them and doesn’t shout at you when you go wrong. Hey, you can even have Patrick Stewart or Spongebob Squarepants whispering in your ear.

One note to mention. While a mobile is a great free alternative to buying a dedicated SatNav for your car, most mobile phones use assisted GPS, which relies on mobile reception to feed the maps. So if you travel to somewhere with poor or non-existent mobile signal, you could find yourself without a reliable navigation system.

spiritlevelSpirit Level: Similar to the compass, a Spirit Level app means you can rest your phone on those wonky shelves and ensure they are upright. Just make sure they aren’t too wonky – otherwise your phone might slide off to a grizzly death.


notesNotepad: Ever wanted to jot down that rude joke to share with someone else, only to find you have nothing to write on or even with. No problem, let your phone take care of it. Quickly type that joke in a Note and save it. You can even send that Note as a text message or email. If your an iCloud subscriber,  it will sync with your cloud account.

mirrorsMirrors: For the vain amongst us, your phone can also ensure you look your best at all times. Got a front facing camera? Why use it for video talking to others when you can use it to check your hair or that you don’t have something horrible on your face. While you are there take a sneaky selfie too?

musicMusic Player: Music is a part of my everyday life. But prior to owning a decent phone, I relied on various portable music devices: a cassette player, a CD player, a MiniDisc recorder,  and then finally on to various iPods. As great as an iPod is, it is annoying when you miss a call because you are bopping to your favourite tune on your audio player and can’t hear your phone ringing, or perhaps you miss four text messages.

“Why take two bottles in to the shower when you can take just one” or something similar. You get the gist. My iPhone with a pair of earphones lets me play music and take a call without having to fumble around in my pocket.

Music, click a button, take a call, click a button, music resumes. Seamless.

kindleBooks: Okay, so a mobile phone doesn’t exactly replace your book collection, but it could. A tablet or eReader would be better suited, but if you have an Amazon Kindle account, you can sync across all devices.

Unless you are a heavy reader,  you are unlikely to be one of these people on a train concentrating on their ultra thin Amazon Kindle, Kobo Touch, or Nook Simple Touch. You are more likely to be twiddling your thumbs counting the number of dead flies on the window.

While a 4″ or 5” screen may not be ideal for reading Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, it is perfectly doable. Download the app and sign in to have access to your entire eBook collection. It will pass the time away. Just make sure you don’t miss your stop.

iplayeryoutubeTelevision/YouTube: When I bought my first mobile phone many moons ago, I was amazed that it could send text messages. Fast forward quite a few years, and your portable gizmo can now be used to keep up with the latest episode of your favourite soap opera while sitting on the train – just in case you finished that book.

With so many channels now offering catchup TV, you can watch that show you missed while out with your friend on Friday night.

Or you could sit and watch hours of cute cats chasing a ball of string on YouTube.

tvguideThere are even sites and apps that allow you to watch TV live. Pop your ear phones in and watch the new episode of that new comedy without the interruption of background noise.

And just in case you like to watch TV the old fashioned way – you know, sitting in front of a television set – you can even use your phone as a remote remote control to tell your satellite box to record that favourite show of yours even when you are not at home, so you don’t miss that important show.

paybackHandheld Games Console: What if reading a book or watching TV doesn’t grab your attention while stuck on a train? How about smashing a few piggies or dicing up a few pieces of fruit? Mobile gaming these days is not just about novelty fun games such as Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja. Now you can enjoy full depth games with expansive worlds and levels such as Infinity Blade 3 or PayBack 2.

I’m not a huge game player, and while your smartphone has a while to go yet before it will get a synchronised release of the latest Mario adventure, mainstream game developers are already taking advantage of this new mobile phone gaming market.

Should the Nintendo 3DS or PS Vita be quaking in its handheld skin? Not just yet.

barclaysCredit Cards/Store Cards: Cash is so last century, but what is going to be this century’s payment method? We aren’t quite there yet with a Star Trek style non-monetary world, but a futuristic contactless payment could be the next best thing. Don’t get your wallet out and fumble around looking for which card to use while inadvertently flashing the entire shop its contents. Whip out your phone and zap it. Payment done.

A little way to go yet, but it is happening. Barclaycard & Orange UK have started contactless payments in the UK, and I am sure others will follow.


Supermarket and store loyalty cards are already offering apps for collecting points via contactless method, meaning you can zap your smartphone with the loyalty card app onscreen.

Very handy, as it saves you carrying a stack of points cards bulging out your wallet.


Laptop: I have put this one on the end, because I am not sure many would actually replace their laptop with a smartphone. A few years ago I did it. I gave up my laptop and solely used my Nokia E61 – a large non-touchscreen Symbian based phone. It went okay, but I only lasted a few months before the lure of a proper computer drew me back.

However with the advances in mobile phone operating systems and large touch screens, some people might not see the need to own a computer for 90% of the things they do.

If you just want it for Facebook, surfing, and emailing, could you trade that desk space for a slim pocket sized device?


This article is a list of physical gadgets replaced by the technology housed in your smartphone. To extend its use even further, the app market is awash with just about anything you can imagine, replacing other everyday items or tasks.

Better for the Environment

People might conclude that mobile phone is a nonessential luxury. However, looking at the number of gadgets and paper products it replaces, you could argue it is better for the environment: Better because it encompasses 15 devices. Better because it gets rid of countless boxes, packaging, and instruction manuals. Better because it is only one device to power.


Wind back 20 years and no one would imagine having a multipurpose device so small in your pocket. The smartphone is the Swiss army knife of the 21st century.

It is amazing to think all those devices can be replaced with one tiny little gadget. I personally couldn’t live without mine.

Could you?

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