More than 2,000 Scientific American readers responded to last month’s online survey asking how they use their smartphone, which gadgets it has replaced and which new features they would like to see. The results show that—despite widespread frustration with battery life—smartphones are superseding music players, digital cameras and GPS navigation systems, but not tablets or personal computers.

Replacing yesterday’s toys is not surprising given that smartphones consolidate most of what those gadgets did into a single device. Survey takers (three quarters of them male) still like their PCs, however, indicating that even though they overlap in many functions, smartphones are not ready to replace our workplace workhorses. Nor are TVs becoming obsolete—screen size matters for certain types of content, notably video. E-book readers appear to still have their place in connected society as well. Even though smartphones can do everything e-readers can, only half of respondents report that smartphones have reduced e-reader use. In the survey we threw in “flashlight” as another gadget not necessarily associated with a smartphone, yet it turns out that about one third of respondents now leave their flashlights in the drawer in favor of their phones.

To what degree has your smartphone affected your use of the following:


Two questions were open ended. The first—“What is your smartphone’s biggest shortcoming?”—elicited a wide range of responses. The most common problem by a wide margin was poor battery life. Other frequent complaints included poor camera quality, high cost (of the phone and of service plans), the small virtual keyboard, lack of device durability (the screen, in particular), handset size (too big or too small) and storage capacity (memory). Many respondents also cited shortcomings that are more the fault of the service provider than the phone maker, including slow connection speeds, poor network coverage, bad call quality and the high cost of data plans.

The second open-ended question asked which capability readers would most like to see in future smartphones. Responses varied widely. Some individuals wanted a flexible monitor (that bends on purpose, unlike the most recent iPhone), a waterproof design to protect their handset, and  sophisticated biometrics—especially face recognition—to protect its contents. Others asked for 3-D capabilities (projection screen, scanner and virtual keyboard), augmented-reality features (imagine your phone identifying and labeling individual flowers as you view a bouquet through the camera lens) and the ability to record with 4K video, a new resolution standard with high image definition, a more detailed picture, better fast action and high-quality visibility on larger projection surfaces than previous standards. To address battery woes, respondents suggested adding the ability to charge via body heat, motion or light.

What type of smartphone do you own?


Nearly 62 percent of our audience owns both a smartphone and a tablet, primarily because they need the different screen sizes for viewing or working with different types of content. Only about 5 percent admitted they own both gadgets because they bought into marketing hype.

Why do you own both a smartphone and a tablet?


More than half of the people surveyed have between 11 and 40 apps on their smartphone. Fewer than 18 percent boast more than 60 apps, and it is unlikely anyone uses more than a handful on a daily basis. It is not uncommon, after the initial excitement of discovering a particular app, for the novelty to wear off. In other cases apps are useful for a fixed amount of time—for a pregnancy, say—and then are abandoned but not deleted.

How many apps do you have/use?


Digital wallets that allow direct debiting of money from an account are one of the more intriguing technologies that smartphones offer, particularly because they are supposedly more secure than using credit or debit cards for purchases. Despite Google Wallet having been around for a few years now, the technology is still in the early stages of adoption. That helps explain why only one quarter of respondents have used or plan to use Apple Pay or Google Wallet.

Perhaps surprisingly, only about two thirds of respondents see the value of securing their smartphones. Of those who do, most use a passcode, while about 21 percent opt for a simple biometric sensor such as Apple’s Touch ID.

Thanks to all who took the time to fill out our questionnaire!