2212: Cell Phone Functions

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Cell Phone Functions
... tazer ... fire extinguisher ... bird feeder ... toilet paper ...
Title text: ... tazer ... fire extinguisher ... bird feeder ... toilet paper ...

Explanation[edit]

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by an xkcd phone. Identify the type of chart, create a table for functions rather than listing them in paragraphs. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

This comic pokes fun at the ever-increasing function of smartphones and their users' reliance on them. It starts sensibly: Calling, browsing the Internet, and taking pictures are the most prominent examples of tasks that many if not most people use a smartphone instead of a specific device nowadays. The next item, newspaper, extends the Internet's capabilities (either from within the mobile browser or as a dedicated app), and the next, flashlight, repurposes the phone camera's flash unit; both are now commonplace features of smartphones. Some people even use their smartphone as the remote for their TV (either via RF wireless [e.g., WiFi] for smart TVs, or via their phone's infrared port) or to pay in stores using payment providers like Google Play Wallet, Samsung Pay, or Apple Pay, which utilize the near-field communication functionality of modern smartphones. A few cars now support using a phone app instead of a key fob, rendering yet another item obsolete; apparently, Randall just started using this feature in his car, as this item is in the very recent past in the comic's diagram.

Then the comic drifts off into smartphone capabilities either not yet possible or likely never to be possible. These capabilities are right of the "now" mark, meaning Randall has not switched to using a smartphone for them: One cannot currently use a phone app as a dog leash, nor as an adhesive bandage. While using a phone as a steering wheel is possible (likely interfacing with the car's self-driving features), it would be a reversal of current initiatives to prevent drivers from using cell phones while driving. Things get increasingly odd, to the point where a smartphone is allegedly used as a toothbrush. Several items would require physical changes to the phone and not just repurposing existing capabilities, such as operating as a cheese grater, stapler or nail clipper, which would make the phone look and feel more like a Swiss Army Knife instead.[citation needed]

The title text continues this path by continuing the list of objects his phone will supposedly replace. These include a "tazer" (a misspelling of taser), a fire extinguisher, a bird feeder, and toilet paper, continuing the path of absurdity the comic implies with its supposed future uses for a phone.


Possible ways the phone could be used for future activities:

  • Dog leash

While this could be a physical leash that spools out of the phone, it would more likely be some kind of an electronic leash, which would activate an electronic dog collar which would somehow (mild shock? vibration? ultrasonic or audible sound?) alert and/or stop the dog when it gets too far from the phone.

  • Steering wheel

This could entail rotating the phone in the same manner as one rotates a steering wheel, it could involve dragging your finger on the screen on a picture of a steering wheel, or, less literally, it could be more along the lines of a self-driving car where you use the phone to designate a destination, and the phone (or car) would steer the car automatically to get there. A phone that can steer a car was featured as a James Bond gadget in the film Tomorrow Never Dies. Or simply, a lot of remote-controlled drones/cars are steered by a smartphone nowadays, it is just not as common as other smartphone functions because of a lesser market it has.

As a way to cover wounds, it could dispense physical adhesive strips, such as Band-Aid brand strips. It might also contain a liquid or gel that would harden over a wound to seal it. It's unlikely this could be done without some physical substance which would need to be replenished sometime after use unless Randall widened the definition of Band-Aid to include devices such as dermal regenerators featured in Star Trek.

This would be relatively easy but impractical, adding bulk to the phone and risking accidentally grating or slicing substances other than cheese, such as your hand or your pocket. You might also get cheese particles in the phone; a waterproof or water-resistant phone might be okay, but those ratings generally do not test for cheese dust.[citation needed] This may be a reference to Homer’s personal organizer having a cheese grater in the Simpsons episode Brother’s Little Helper.

  • Stapler

This would again add bulk and require replenishing of supplies, and where the phone is presumably helping to eliminate paper, this would work counter to that goal as it would only be useful in the presence of paper. Some "stapling" techniques do not involve actual staples; they work by cutting and folding little bits of paper so a few sheets hang together. This would eliminate bulk and the need to store pieces of metal but would be limited to very short stacks of just a few sheets of paper.

  • Nail clipper

This might not be too hard or add too much bulk, but it's just one more of potentially hundreds or thousands of little things that could be added but aren't justified based on how single-purpose the function is. Maybe as a general-purpose cutter/scissors?

More bulk, and it would be a real power drain for the batteries. Maybe that's why it's further into the future, as it probably depends on better battery technology. Many phones already have a built-in motor that rotates, purposely off-balance and meant to cause vibrations (for tactile notifications, especially when sound is turned off). Perhaps that could be made more powerful and given a center hole that can take a bit?

  • Toothbrush

More bulk, and while useful it probably isn't useful enough to justify adding it to the phone. The phone should probably also dispense toothpaste, otherwise, the toothbrush doesn't accomplish the goal of letting the phone completely replace the needed items for a particular function (brushing teeth in this case).

Mentioned in title text:

  • Taser (misspelled as tazer in the title text)

A Taser is a brand of "conducted electrical weapon", typically used as a "less-lethal" weapon by law enforcement. Commercial Tasers are also marketed for the general public for self-defense purposes. With the battery power available for a functional electric drill, a Taser may not be far behind. A Taser as a phone feature is not currently available, but other stun gun-type phone cases are already on the market.

While this might entail having to stock fire-controlling substances (water, Freon, powders, etc.), it's unlikely a phone could contain enough to do anything substantial against a fire. Perhaps there is a future and as yet unknown role for sound or light emissions in the combating of fires?

A phone could contain some seeds or bird food which could be dispensed, but most people would not want a bunch of birds too near their phone, especially pooping on it. Again, not very practical for the space those seeds would take, and it would need frequent refilling.

Definitely not... unless maybe those fictitious sound waves or vibrations or light could be used to "shake" the poop or dirt particles loose, like in Star Trek's sonic showers, and not require actual paper or physical contact. Or unless a wirelessly controlled bidet becomes ubiquitous.

Transcript[edit]

Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[A graph with time on the x-axis and items Randall replaced with his smartphone on the y-axis. For each item, the time he (allegedly) replaced it is marked; the marks form a jagged line down the graph, roughly sorted by when he switched. The regions are marked]
I have a specific device for this
[and]
I just use my phone
[items where the switch-over date is in the past:]
Telephone
Web Browser
Camera
Newspaper
Flashlight
TV Remote
Credit Card
Car Key
[items where the switch-over date is in the future:]
Dog Leash
Steering Wheel
Band-Aid
Cheese Grater
Stapler
Nail Clipper
Electric Drill
Toothbrush


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Discussion

I know of someone who DID build a taser into a phone... (but that's all it is now, was no space for the phone's electronics anymore) 172.69.54.39 08:05, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

Well, there are actual commercial taser phone cases available for purchase today - here's one example. Not necessarily a good idea and not legal everywhere, but it exists. --NeatNit (talk) 12:03, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

And even without checking if it already existed, tasers immediately struck me as the only idea in the comic that was remotely plausible. Most of the things in the list for one would require additional hardware to be a part of the phone, and the added weight and bulk would not seem worthwhile given the expected times one would use these things. One exception would be a steering wheel, as using wireless comunication, any necessary hardware could be added to the car instead of the phone. This doesn't seem like a good idea though normally, but once you have driverless cars, commands for where the car should go might be incorporated into a phone app. And theoretically, maybe you could have a dog wear an electric shock collar that would trigger if it got too far away from the phone without changing much on the phone hardware, though it seems there would be a lot of possible issues with making that work.--172.68.59.126 04:49, 9 October 2019 (UTC)

A nail clipper might be a bit much, but I actually do use my iPhone 5 as a nail file. Once I finally upgrade it (long overdue), I will no longer be able to use my phone for that—the iPhone 5 was the last model to have a hard 90° glass edge all around the home button, an edge that happens to work perfectly for smoothing off any snags or rough edges that remain after I've trimmed my nails with scissors. Tracy Hall (talk) 03:32, 15 October 2019 (UTC)

It seems a bit peculiar that one of the move "obvious" devices a cellphone can replace is missing: the watch. JohnHawkinson (talk) 08:18, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

That's because no one sane would do that ;) Some may use a Smart Watch instead of a classic watch but except of the case when you were used to pocket watches anyways a replacement of a wacth by a phone would be a downgrade usability wise. /edit: That being said: My personal "Now" bar is at the first quarter (more or less at the web browser's bar end) Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 08:29, 7 October 2019 (UTC)So that physics is nothing but the harmonies of the vibrating rubber bands.
I realize it's unlikely you're being entirely serious here, but the same argument applies to almost all of the devices listed in this comic. So…no, that's not the reason for its omission. JohnHawkinson (talk) 08:33, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
There are other things that phones can do that separate devices exist for as well that aren't listed in the comic. For instance, calculators, daily planners and memo pads, calendars, address books, video games and watching tv shows/movies, reading books (remember dedicated eReaders?), etc--172.68.59.126 04:55, 9 October 2019 (UTC)
Actually I was dead serious. Well except of the "no one sane" part. I don't want to offend anyone :) In the time you take your phone out of the pocket to check the time I've looked thrice at my wrist watch Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 08:54, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
The time taken isn't awfully relevant, unless you're checking the time awfully frequently. For the number of times a day I need to check the time when I'm not at a computer or already looking at my phone, the convenience of a wristwatch could easily be outweighed by the inconvenience of taking it off and putting in on each day. 162.158.178.69 09:34, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
Assuming you'd put it off. ;) (Despite the emoticon I'm serious again. I only put my watch off to change the battery) And even if I would put it off it would be more likely I forgot my phone on my desk than forgetting to put the watch on. I'm wearing a wrist watch since I was 8 or 9. But granted, the time is not as relevant as the fact that you have to put a device from out of somewhere and push a button to activate the screen just to check time. But in the end it's just a matter of personal taste and habit, I guess. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 10:02, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
Yeah, whether it's as convenient or even as good is irrelevant: Cell phones are not as good at photos as a dedicated camera but they are used for that because they can do it without the need for a separate device, which is the point of this comic. Most people do not wear watches anymore & just use their phones instead. Watches really would belong on this list, except it might be more difficult to pin down a transitional point! Some of us stopped needing watches when we realized our Nokia 3390 had a clock in the corner. Other people may have a link to whattimeisitrightnow dot com on their smartphone's home screen... ProphetZarquon (talk) 14:44, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
A phone in the pocket is infinitely better for me than a watch because watches make the skin underneath the wristband itch from the continuous contact. (I have atopic dermatitis.) -- 162.158.93.135 13:35, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
there was a brief period between ubiquitous cell/mobile phone use and the advent of the smartwatch where experts predicted the demise of the watch other than as a piece of jewellery Boatster (talk) 08:46, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
I always hated wearing a watch - I do sometimes use my phone for finding the time - but "Hey Google - what time is it?" works without taking it out of my pocket. The thing is though - watches were obsolete before the smartphone existed. When just about 100% of electronic devices have clock display - my cooker, microwave, toaster, car, TV, computer, etc, etc ALL tell me the time. Why would I need a watch? SmartWatches seem like a retrograde step. SteveBaker (talk) 13:17, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
Well, with a watch you always know, where to look, especially when not in your own home. So just looking at your own wrist is much faster, then scanning your enviroment for the nearest screen. --Lupo (talk) 13:29, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
"Smart Watches" that don't do much without a smartphone to connect to seem especially backwards to me. A smart watch with cellular radio would be useful on its own. Side note: So you're that one person who leaves voice activation on all the time!?! Setting the very real privacy & safety issues aside for a moment... Doesn't it trigger from random conversations on an almost daily basis? I don't even know anyone who was able to leave Siri or Alexa on touchless, much less Google. ProphetZarquon (talk) 15:21, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
Newer generations are able to do so, at least partially. E.g. new generation from Garmin is able to play music to your bluetooth earpieces, without of need of a phone. --Lupo (talk) 08:22, 8 October 2019 (UTC)
I agree, it seems to me that the majority of people who had a cell phone as a teenager never acquired the habit of wearing a watch. I happen to still wear a watch and I also have a separate device that I use instead of my cell phone to make phone calls when I am at home. It's called a "telephone". And it's a fact that very few people who had a cell phone as a teenager have one of these in their homes. Rtanenbaum (talk) 19:49, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
I used to wear watch. Then the strap broke (well, the things connecting the strap to watch). So I got used to wearing them in pocket, no big deal, didn't needed them that often and never got to finding the shop where they would fix it. Then the watch broke. I got used to looking at phone. On the other hand, I'm still using "dumb" cellphone instead of smartphone for calling, the shape is just better for holding next to ear. -- Hkmaly (talk) 22:16, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

Try to translate "die eierlegende Wollmilchsau" 162.158.89.97 09:52, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

Sounds a lot like a schmoo from Lil Abner by Al Capp! I wonder if the egg-legend woolmilksow is where he got the idea? ProphetZarquon (talk) 15:21, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
Die eigerlegende Wollmilchsau is a joke on tools/machines/etc which are designed to perform a lot of incompatible tasks, but often fail to work properly.

162.158.91.221 16:37, 8 October 2019 (UTC)

So it doesn't pre-date the Schmoo? Well that's disappointing. ProphetZarquon (talk) 19:05, 12 October 2019 (UTC)


There is a terrible movie - Shorts: The Adventures of the Wishing Rock - where everyone has a device called The Black Box that can do all of that, as well as pretty much anything. Its function changes kind of like a Rubik's Cube. It's an obvious parody of smartphones, except that it came out right around the time they were getting popular so I'm not sure if smartphones are the true inspiration. I can't recommend that movie (really, it's awful) but this comic reminded me of it and I wanted to share. --NeatNit (talk) 10:11, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

Also see the Guide 2.0 as depicted in the later Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy novels. It would do anything its user asked, including removing all Earths from all timelines (which is what it was built for). There's an old SciFi story about a man with a hypnotic paisley tie who accidentally leaves behind a futuristic universal remote & the contemporary guy who finds it gets in trouble. Overall, the "one device that does everything" has been an idea for at least a hundred years; but I think it's not just dismissed as whimsy so easily these days. ProphetZarquon (talk) 15:21, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

Re: steering wheel, there was a James Bond movie (Pierce Brosnan era I think) where he could control a car from a phone (they were not yet called smartphones at the time). I wouldn't be surprised that the technology has already been implemented, even though I don't want to think of the legal consequences if this became mainstream: "Honestly officer, I wasn't LOOKING at my phone, I was DRIVING my car!"162.158.155.110 11:30, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

sure it's *technically* possible: all you need is to pair the gyro/accelerometer of your phone with your car's servo steering. any vehicle with a parking assistant can be controlled that way (and security researchers have demonstrated that in impressive talks back in 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OobLb1McxnI). -- //gir.st/ (talk) 11:37, 7 October 2019 (UTC)
It was in Tomorrow Never Dies (https://youtu.be/BxTvfVZjR_Q) with a 'slightly' non-standard phone (pre-smartphone) and a 'slightly' non-standard car... Hardly the most unbelievable feature, though. ;) 162.158.158.235 16:06, 7 October 2019 (UTC)


I've written a first draft of the explanation and transcript, but I don't have time for anything else today. It turned out more high-flown than I intended, so feel free to reword as necessary. Also, because I'm sure it'll come up eventually, regarding the transcript: since Randall has not given any time scale, we should refrain from over-interpreting when something happened. For the joke to get through, knowing which elements happened in the past and which (might) happen in the future is enough. -- //gir.st/ (talk) 11:33, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

Hmmm - so let's fact check this:

  • My phone is indeed being used as a car key (I own a Tesla and my phone unlocks the car and lets me drive it), phone, camera, newspaper, credit card and flashlight - so short bars for all of these is good.
  • As a TV remote, that could be true - but we're actually edging into a "post-phone" era on that one. I can (and occasionally do) use my phone to control the Roku - but it's easier to use voice commands through Google Home for that...although I suppose I could use the phone to run Google Home instead of the Google Mini in my living room...so 50/50 on being "post-phone" on this one.
  • As a Web Browser, I could use the phone - but only rarely actually do that. Mostly I use my ChromeBook for that, and also the screen on my Tesla - the piddly little cellphone screen guarantees it won't take over that role for more than 10% of the time.
  • He missed out "Text messaging" - but I'm using the phone less and less for that because having a decent keyboard is good - so the ChromeBook is stealing that capability.
  • Steering wheel...well, the Tesla already steers itself about 80% of the time that I drive. I predict that the steering wheel will cease to exist (at least for me) before I use my phone for that...although it certainly is capable of it in theory...and I'm pretty sure Tesla demonstrated the car being used as a radio controlled toy from a phone a few years ago...although it never made it into production (mercifully!).
  • You probably could use a phone as a bird feeder (for smaller birds - draping a dead rabbit over it to attract vultures might be a bad idea).
  • All of the others are well into the future...so I agree with him on those.

SteveBaker (talk) 13:13, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

I feel like we could/should be reading this more literally. If we assume that Randall lives on the fairly early edge of technology, then the time from the left side of the chart to now is ~25 years. If we also assume that the time axis is linear, then we should be driving our cars with our phones in 7-8 years (though I can now drive my car through a parking lot at least using my phone, it's still doing the steering for me). Sadly brushing our teeth is still about 20 years out according to this prediction, however maybe by then our phones will be able to do some sort of ultrasonic cleaning. Jasonk (talk) 13:58, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

I'm continually surprised that nobody is known to have fallen for a joke digital toilet-tissue app called iWipe. ProphetZarquon (talk) 15:21, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

It seems like it would be good to reference Randall's rather unusual phone function proposals in the explanation. Perhaps he's suggesting that these phones will become commonly used (or at least used by him) in the future. Dry Paratroopa (talk) 14:38, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

Maybe when he says "TV remote" he's actually talking about "cable box remote". I think there's an Xfinity X1 mobile app. Barmar (talk) 16:45, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

Some (or many?) Smart TVs, such as my 6 year old LG Smart TV are also possible to connect to an app. --Lupo (talk) 08:22, 8 October 2019 (UTC)
Any of the many many smartphones with an infrared port can control any number of common devices. Every Samsung Galaxy phone is effectively a universal remote, all the user needs to do is download one of hundreds of free apps & bam, their device is now a fully programmable touchscreen universal remote with customizable buttons, labels, & scripted sequences. A "Smart" TV is not needed, but most of those actually use infrared remotes as well (some use RF remotes, but even TVs with WiFi typically still use an infrared remote until you get up into the more expensive models). Infrared is still used all over the place; in fact, with the proliferation of household devices with remotes, I'd wager that the average home has more infrared controlled devices in it today than ten or twenty years ago, when I first started using my Palm PDAs & then Palm Treo as a universal remote. Randall is pretty technologically savvy & also seems to be an early adopter, so I wouldn't be surprised if he's been using his smartphone as a remote since before the first iPhone was released. (Note that iPhones, being more toy than tool, do not have an infrared port. Fortunately, iOS devices have never been more than about a third of the smartphones in use.) ProphetZarquon (talk) 19:02, 12 October 2019 (UTC)

Could the cheese grater be a reference to Apple's newest computers? I could imagine an iPhone with the "cheese grater" texture. Billtheplatypus (talk) 17:01, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

The Palm Pre worked as a cheese *slicer* back in 2009! https://gizmodo.com/palm-pre-cuts-the-cheese-5279413 162.158.214.88 17:48, 11 October 2019 (UTC)

I am very curious as to what specific device Randall used for his telephone way back when before he used his phone. 172.68.70.28 17:24, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

Before he used his phone, the specific device was likely his parents phone. --Lupo (talk) 08:22, 8 October 2019 (UTC)

The comic says "I just use MY phone." Presumably, before that, he used someone else's phone, or a payphone or something. 172.68.189.19 21:54, 7 October 2019 (UTC)

I think he means "I just use my CELL phone". I have a separate device that I use instead of my "cell" phone to make phone calls when I am at home. It's called a "telephone". This is probably what he used before cell phones. Rtanenbaum (talk) 17:52, 10 October 2019 (UTC)

If you think about it, the phone started out with maybe 4 components: microphone, speaker, bell ringer, and gizmo to alert the operator to connect to you. Newspaper was paper and ink. Flashlight was bulb and battery. They had nothing in common at all. So dog leash? Better GPS + bluetooth shock collar. Tazer? Better battery + extendable prongs. Toilet paper is easy: bluetooth enabled bidet. Honestly, the only device I would bet money on being wrong is the bird feeder. After all, who would deliberately walk away from their phone for hours on end? (besides me) 172.68.90.100 21:41, 7 October 2019 (UTC) SiliconWolf

Toilet paper is even easier than that, and you can do it with any phone. Just install three C shells. 172.69.63.83 22:59, 8 October 2019 (UTC)

I can imagine using phone as a dog leash. It could be connected with smart dog-collar that gives a shock to a dog if it moves further than chosen distance. Not that I would like such idea, but seems possible. Tkopec (talk) 08:00, 8 October 2019 (UTC)

You would still need a specific device (the dog-collar), instead of "just" using your phone. --Lupo (talk) 08:12, 8 October 2019 (UTC)

Unmentioned single purpose devices that cell phones have partially or totally replaced: radio, MP3 player, music player, personal assistant device, voice recorder, video camera. Rtanenbaum (talk) 13:12, 8 October 2019 (UTC)

Tazer sounds like a good idea, but some other personal protective devices could also be welcomed: personal alarm (press a button and loud piercing alarm scares away attacker), pepper spray, accident alert. Rtanenbaum (talk) 13:12, 8 October 2019 (UTC)

I'm surprised that Randall omitted using smart phones as replacements for stand-alone GPS units for mapping and driving directions. These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 05:35, 13 October 2019 (UTC)

y axis order

I wonder if there is a rationale for the ordering on the vertical axis. They are mostly, but not exclusively, monotonically increasing in time. -- Mwh001 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I didn't research this, but it looks like the order of availibility it is sorted by. But web browser wasn't used at first, because it was just so expensive and hard to use. TV remote apps are available for quite some time, but often it is easier to just grab the remote when its close to the sofa, instead of opening the app. It remains unclear, why he switched at all. --Lupo (talk) 08:22, 8 October 2019 (UTC)
Mind Bleach please!

Toothbrush, and toilet paper? John.Adriaan (talk) 00:16, 8 October 2019 (UTC)

Make America Grate Again

Randall may be onto something with the cheese grater. If Americans ever stop grating their cheese and someone wants to force them to resume, then they could start a movement to require cell phones be designed so that you have to grate cheese with the phone before you can use the phone for anything else, and this movement could use the slogan "Make America Grate Again", and the existing MAGA hats.172.69.34.92 04:52, 8 October 2019 (UTC)

A dog leash is entirely plausible, you put a real shock-collar on the dog, then control it from the phone. But I'm disappointed that it's not a graph of how much time per day one spends doing each task on the phone. Because using it like a phone would be the shortest one, just as in the pic above. — Kazvorpal (talk) 16:23, 8 October 2019 (UTC)

Hoot you trap off.  :-)

Ever see the “pomegranate”?

A few years ago I saw a video (spoof) of a new tech device. It was a phone with increasingly implausible and absurd features. Started off with a language translator well ahead of state of the art. Went on to things including coffee maker and harmonica. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomegranate_(phone) 172.69.68.111 19:37, 9 October 2019 (UTC)

I don't know about the pomegranate. But I know about the XPhone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-nezImUP0w Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 09:52, 11 October 2019 (UTC)