1363: xkcd Phone
This comic is a parody of a multitude of mobile-technology related issues that, when brought together, create a general satire of smartphone advertising. It was the first entry in the ongoing xkcd Phone series with the next 1465: xkcd Phone 2 released about nine months later.
The advertised features here either make previously useful capabilities useless or add features nobody wants. Except for "your mobile world (going) digital", which is old news.
The first generation of cell phones (introduced in the early 1980s) used analog radio signals to send voice traffic - and this was the standard used by the first ever smartphone, the IBM Simon. But the second generation (2G) standards, introduced from 1991 onwards, were digital, and analog services had been phased out by 2010 in most countries, long before this comic was published in 2014.
To market something as "going digital" implies that the corporation has found a way to integrate computers and/or the internet into a market that previously existed without them; the market for mobile phones has always involved computers, making the xkcd phone's marketing feel dated and clueless.
Explanations of features
From the top, going clockwise:
- Custom blend OS: iOS and Android are offered by different conglomerates and run on different kernels (Darwin and Linux, respectively). A "custom blend" would probably be a nightmare to work with.
- Simulates alternative speed of light: This renders the clock useless as a means of telling time. The speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second; relativistic effects, such as time dilation, are only noticeable at significant fractions of the speed of light. Since the phone is simulating a much slower speed of light, driving at even highway speeds will cause a significant amount of time dilation. For example, driving at 90 mph (90% of the default simulated speed of light) will give a time dilation factor of about 2.29, causing the clock to advance only 26 minutes for each hour; driving at exactly 100 mph makes the dilation factor infinite and will stop the clock entirely. Driving beyond 100 mph would make the clock start advancing through imaginary/complex time rather than real time, somehow, or maybe the phone will refuse to travel faster than 100 mph.
- Wireless: as in cordless phone. This is the bare minimum a phone has to have in order to be a mobile phone, so advertising it as a feature feels dated by decades. The alternative explanation, as in the phone has no wires at all, even inside, would render the phone either useless or extremely advanced technologically.
- Accelerometer screams in free fall: A humorous function. Rather than having some sort of feature to prevent breakage or cracking when a drop is detected, the phone just makes you more aware of its potential imminent doom.
- When exposed to light, phone says "Hi!": Bait and switch, and also a build from the previous joke. The implied feature is that the screen or camera will automatically adjust, but instead the phone is weirdly anthropomorphized. This may also be an annoying feature as many people's phones are exposed to light quite frequently.
- FlightAware partnership: This is a reference to the FlightAware flight tracking service. This FlightAware partnership results in the phone playing airplane engine noise whenever a flight passes over the phone's current location, an annoying and arbitrary feature. It may also be superfluous, as such noise may be heard from the plane itself, depending on altitude.
- This app was referenced in 1660: Captain Speaking.
- Realistic case: possibly a joke on various audiovisual devices like gaming consoles that advertise realistic sound, graphics, etc. Of course, applying "realistic" to an actual physical case is ridiculous. Either the case is actually real, or it doesn't actually function as a case. Possible reference to 331: Photoshops, where Cueball finds a physical object to not look realistic. Could also be a reference to "case" as in "best case" or "worst case", which would make this the realistic case. This would also be ridiculous.
- Clear screen: This is a pointless descriptor from the perspective of the consumer. Of course the screen is clear. This joke works in tandem with the previous joke, as a play on "clear case, realistic screen," which are both hypothetically viable selling points. It could also mean that the screen is clear all the way through, allowing you to see the electronics inside.
- Side Facing Camera: There was a recent controversy surrounding an Indiegogo for a surreptitious, side-mounted camera device for smartphones due to the advertisement of the device as a good way to take creep shots, which are illegal in many places. Widespread dissemination of these devices as a built-in feature would likely result in a sharp increase in delinquency of this nature. May also be an ad absurdum extension of devices with both forward and backward facing cameras.
- Presented in partnership with Qualcomm, Craigslist, Whirlpool, Hostess, LifeStyles, and the US Chamber of Commerce. Qualcomm is a semiconductor company that designs and produces chips for mobile phones. Whirlpool Corporation is a large American multinational manufacturer and marketer of home appliances, while Whirlpool is a prominent Australian tech forum website, originally created for discussion of Australian broadband providers but now extending to cover general tech topics, including mobile phones. The other companies and lobbying organizations mentioned here have no association with mobile phones , though there is a long history of unrelated companies attempting to leverage their respective brands to help promote each other. The US Chamber of Commerce is a lobbyist group known for sponsoring political campaign ads, so their partnership with a phone manufacturer would imply some sort of political motive to its design.
- Manufactured on equipment which also processes peanuts. A warning often seen on candy and other foods for people with a peanut allergy. It is highly unlikely that equipment used to produce mobile phones would also process food.
- Price includes 2-year Knicks contract. Mobile phones are often sold by phone companies in combination with a cell phone contract. The Knicks, a team with a history of questionable personnel decisions, might in fact be willing to offer 2-year contracts (worth at least $1,100,000) to cellular phone purchasers regardless of their skill at basketball, though the vast majority of customers wouldn't be interested.
- Phone may extinguish nearby birthday candles. A rather oddly specific capability, which might also be annoying for anyone attempting to host a birthday party. As to how it would do this, a very powerful directional speaker would be able to blow out a nearby candle, but the speakers in mobile phones aren't going to be that big. It is also difficult to work out how the phone would detect and identify birthday candles. Perhaps when the phone senses light from candles, it says "hi" (see above) so loudly that they blow out.
- If phone ships with Siri, return immediately; do not speak to her and ignore any instructions she gives. Siri is a virtual personal assistant application for Apple devices. Not speaking to it and not following its instructions would defeat its purpose. It may suggest that a malevolent "Siri AI" has sneaked itself onto some devices, at the manufacturing stage, for some diabolical purpose. This may be a reference to the Companion Cube in the game Portal, in which the player is instructed by GLaDOS to disregard its advice if the cube appears to be animate, or it may be a reference to the AI-Box Experiment, in which allowing the AI to engage you in conversation will almost certainly result in it successfully convincing you to let it out of the box (here, probably connecting the phone to a data network).
- Do not remove lead casing. A mobile phone encased in lead would not function because it could not transmit or receive data. Devices that emit high levels of ionizing radiation are often encased in lead, but a phone that would emit that level of radiation would be unhealthy to carry around. If encased in sufficient lead to mitigate the danger, it would be uncomfortably heavy. This might be reference to 925: Cell Phones where Randall makes fun of the WHO claiming that cell phones might cause cancer despite huge studies showing the opposite. This could also mean the device is an actual bananaphone as regular phones emit no ionizing radiation (xkcd Radiation Dose Chart). Regrettably, the lead casing would render the phone inedible, although this somewhat mitigates the issues with having been manufactured on equipment that also processes peanuts.
- Phone may attract/trap insects; this is normal. Some plants, like the Venus flytrap, attract and trap insects, but mobile phones are not known to exhibit this behavior. This could possibly be a play on software bugs being introduced to the phone more easily than usual, depending on the specifics of its operating system (made much more likely by its apparent custom-made blended OS (see above)). Also may be a reference to Rasberry crazy ants which are attracted to electronics.
- Volume adjustable (requires root). Rooting is the method to gain privileged access on Android phones, allowing one to access features that normal users would not and should not normally modify. Adjusting the volume should be available to any user and should not be restricted to root access only.
- If you experience sudden tingling, nausea, or vomiting, perform a factory reset immediately. These symptoms are usually associated with chemical or radiation poisoning. It is unclear why these would be cured by a factory reset, though software apps could plausibly be used to display nauseating visual effects. Radiation poisoning as a possible cause may also relate to the lead casing mentioned above. It is unclear how a (software-only) factory reset would repair a damaged lead casing. This may also be a reference to the series of similar disclaimers at the end of many medical advertisements.
- Do not submerge in water; phone will drown. Most phones are not waterproof and will probably short-circuit when submerged. The specific term of drowning would however imply that the phone breathes air (which actually would be possible if it had a Lithium–air battery).
- Exterior may be frictionless. The front of a smartphone is usually made of glass and should have a surface with very low friction. The back of a phone is usually made from a material that has higher friction to make it pleasant to hold and to make sure it doesn't slide off objects it is placed on. A completely frictionless surface would make it almost impossible to hold and would make it very susceptible to drops (at which point the phone will scream).
- Prolonged use can cause mood swings, short-term memory loss, and seizures. These are all side effects that are associated with certain kinds of medication or radiation treatment of the brain and would not be acceptable for mobile phones. This may be the explanation for the memory loss in 1660: Captain Speaking.
- Avert eyes while replacing battery. Actions that would warrant averting your eyes are usually associated with high-intensity light capable of causing eye damage. Depending on the specific energy source, this may be accompanied by high levels of other types of radiation (e.g. making an X-ray photo). This may hint that the phone might be powered by a radionuclide battery which would explain the lead casing and the possible radiation side effects. A phone that emits X-ray radiation would not be healthy to be around. Alternately, this may be a reference to the Ark Of The Covenant, implying that gazing upon the battery or the compartment wall behind it is forbidden on pain of severe punishment. Or merely that with its back removed the phone would be naked, and the user should avert their eyes to preserve the phone's modesty.
- Under certain circumstances, wireless transmitter may control God. In monotheistic religions, God is the omnipotent creator of the universe; the very notion that He could be controlled is both heretical and, under some definitions of omnipotence, impossible (under others, omnipotence includes the ability to be or not to be controlled).
- [An image of a smartphone standing up with a small dot on the side and a single button at the bottom. Many labels are pointing to different parts of it. Clockwise from the top left they read:]
- Runs custom blend of Android and iOS
- Simulates alternative speed of light (default: 100 miles per hour) and adjusts clock as phone accelerates
- Accelerometer detects when phone is in free fall and makes it scream
- When exposed to light, phone says "Hi!"
- FlightAware partnership: Makes airplane noise when flights pass overhead
- Realistic case
- Clear screen
- Side-facing camera
- The xkcd Phone
- Your mobile world just went digital®
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