Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Smart Phones Get Smarter

May 2008

By Mike Gould

Star Trek gadgets have a tendency to work their way into real life. Automatic doors, talking computers and ion rocket drives (no warp drives yet, alas) have all been realized in recent years. And Captain Kirk's communicator has been born as the cell phone, able to take satellite calls from around the world. But things are taking a slightly different direction, as the communicator has begun to take on the functionality the tricorder, the computer, and just about anything else a dedicated Trekker would want to wave in front of a curious alien.

We're talking a convergence here: the smart phone as multimedia Swiss army knife. A veritable Ronco of rockin' appliances that slice, dice, and call your mother on her birthday. Alexander Graham Bell once said (loudly, into a carbon microphone): "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you". Now we say (into our VoIP-ified videophones): "Hi Mr. Watson; nice tie".

Get a Jobs
The Apple iPhone continues to make inroads into the market share once dominated by the BlackBerry and Palm Treo. The Blackberry is still number one at a market share of 42%, according to InfoWorld, and the Treo is number two. But the iPhone has momentum to catch up with the Treo in the next month or two.

Given Apple's track record on design, creativity and general coolness, this means the sky's the limit on what can be packed into these little hi tech hotties. Already you can use it as a phone (obviously), camera, digital photo frame, and web browser. What's next?

Now that Apple has released a Software Developers Kit (SDK), programmers are scrambling to write nifty applications to extend the functionality and fun of the iPhone. I should point out that there are lots of perfectly good other smart phones out there; I'm just focusing on Apple because they seem to do the best job of integration and design, and get the most media buzz. (And being a media buzzer myself, I need to get my oar in or lose credibility...).

Kirk to Enterprise
Since we're sort of in science fiction land here anyway, I can reveal that the inspiration for this article was a talk that SF writer Bruce Sterling gave at the Innovationsforum Interaktionsdesign conference in Potsdam, Germany, at the end of March. Sterling is one of my favorite writers, and I found a reference to his talk on the Boing Boing blog and watched the video of it.

Part of his discourse centered on the smartphone: a "...globally distributed, well-nigh ubiquitous meta-medium" as he put it, "...but the screen still stinks and the buttons are impossible". He listed some of the things the smartphone has replaced: the pager, alarm clock, calculator, fax machine, video game, camera, video camera, Dictaphone, AM-FM radio, Discman, pedometer, and various others.

At the end of the list was bar code reader. This is not yet a reality on the iPhone, but people are working on it. Now I sorta wrote about this last July ("iPhoning Home", visible at http://mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.113.shtml), putting it thusly:

"Why this matters to a small business person: with an open platform, a developer could design an application that would, for instance, allow you do your inventory with your telephone, tapping into your company's server and entering data as you walk the warehouse, tapping on the screen of your iPhone."

Wow, I was almost prescient! I didn't think about the bar code bit, but that, coupled with a WiFi connection to the company server, is a pretty good description of how it could work. Actually, to be really useful, it would also have to have an RFID reader, but I'm sure that's also right around the corner. And another article.

I'm beginning to think I may actually get one of these puppies, but I'm waiting for June. At that time, Apple is expected to announce the Rev.2 of the iPhone with G3 technology. G3 stands for "3rd Generation" and is a much more powerful means of connecting to the Internet than the existing Edge network that current iPhones tap into. This translates into faster downloading of web pages, and more secure connections generally. The US is currently well behind the rest of the world in deploying G3 infrastructure, but expect to see this more and more as we lurch into the technical vastness of the future. And then there will be G4, and G5, etc., etc..

There is also a rumor that the new iPhones will have a front-facing camera so that you can do handheld video conferencing. Not even Captain Kirk had this, and that would be a pretty dramatic development. I don't think we'll see that by June, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it in a year or two.

So what would I, Mr. Small Businessman-photographer-writer-web designer use an iPhone for?

A phone, replacing my aging Verizon jobbie.
A digital portfolio of my photography, replacing my iPod.
A way to see the websites I design as more and more people will see them: palm-sized. (There are ways to optimize web sites for handheld viewing, and I am going to have to get into that arena soon.)
A PDA, replacing my Palm T3 for names and numbers, and maybe even calendaring. (I am so retro that I currently use a hand-written Day Planner for this. The horror, the horror...)
An email system, replacing my laptop on short trips. Long trips are usually more photographic in nature, and the 17" screen on my laptop is needed for this.

And since I'm a Macintosh user, all the above will integrate seamlessly with my new 8-core Mac Pro. Again, this is what works for me (or, rather, what will probably work for me - we'll see once an iPhone finds its way into my hot little hands); you may prefer a BlackBerry talking to your PC.

And my birthday is in June...

http://boingboing.net/
http://interface.fh-potsdam.de/innoforum/english/09_video.php?vidName=769193

Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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