Smartphones Can Do Anything, Right?

Once upon a time, frankly not that long ago, a telephone was something that was tethered by a wire to a phone jack and that enabled people to make telephone calls — nothing more. A home had one phone line, and perhaps multiple phones for that line.

Things became just a bit more interesting later when a home had more than one phone line. That meant, for example, that a teenager could stay up all night gabbing on the teenager’s phone line without interfering with the ability of family members to make a phone call on another home line.

This still was a fairly simple situation. When we were out and about in the world, our phones did not follow us. Our communications tended to be more in-person, and perhaps we observed what was happening in the world around us with a bit more of a keen sense, without any technological distractions.

In the late 1980s, we witnessed the first “mobile” phones. These phones were behemoths. Such a phone and its battery pack literally took up a large briefcase to carry around. Other than the cachet of parading the fact of owning the behemoth mobile phone, it honestly was easier to use a pay phone when out of the home or office.

But in the 1990s and thereafter, mobile phone technology developed exponentially in terms of size, functionality, and convenience. And now, in a small device about the size of a pack of cards, or smaller, we literally have the world at our fingertips.

Today’s smartphones, of course, allow for phone calls while on the run. But we can do so much more — so much more! We can search the Internet, communicate by emails and texts, engage in all sorts of social media outlets, take photos and videos, make financial transactions and purchases, make reservations at hotels and restaurants, make travel arrangements, check on the weather, obtain the news from various sources, listen to music, watch movies and TV shows, use a flashlight, view maps and get directions, use a compass — and the list goes on and on.

This, naturally, provides many benefits. People like to utilize the myriad functions offered by smartphones. On the downside, users may become more distracted and less in the real world. While smartphones can perform hundreds of tasks, they are not magic. They cannot do absolutely everything. For example, not too long in the past, customers were duped into paying for, and downloading, an app that was represented to cure acne. It claimed that, by holding a smartphone with the engaged app up to your face, the smartphone with the app ultimately would cure acne. But not surprisingly, there was no scientific proof that the app actually could accomplish that goal.

And very recently, the Federal Trade Commission announced enforcement actions against the providers of two apps that were represented to detect the signs of melanoma. Apparently, by taking a photo of a mole, the app on a smartphone could detect melanoma. The apps, called Mole Detective and Mole Detect, were on the market in 2011 and 2012 and could be purchased for up to $4.99. Obviously, the FTC does not believe the apps were accurately represented to the public.

So what is the moral of the story? The moral appears to be that smartphone technology will continue to develop as it has since its infancy. But while these phones can do more tasks than previously imaginable, if a function offered appears to strain your imagination, think twice before purchasing the app, lest you lose your money while gaining some potential embarrassment.

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is of counsel in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please email him at with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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