Monday, February 08, 2010

It's not a phone.

...But I'm not sure what to call it.  Really.  I think it's past time that we stop calling these gadgets we carry around "phones".  The phone is just an app - actually on my current device I have at least three different "phone" apps installed.  It's also probably one of the least used apps on the device.  I rarely make actual calls.  In fact I avoid the phone because it's so in-efficient for most things.

This little brick is so many things at once it's hard to imagine.  Even basic "phones" like the $20 pre-paid my mom carries, are a camera, address book, calendar, alarm clock, calculator, watch, and txt messenger.  I have the other end of the spectrum in that I carry a "Droid".  I think that is actually a more useful moniker.  My device fill s more "bills" than I can enumerate.  All of the above crammed together with everything a PDA and laptop computer can do, a navigation (GPS) unit, always on internet connection, media player, plus the addition of more sensors than you can shake a cell phone at,  and the ability to fit in my pocket.

A great exam ple and one of my favorite apps - always a part of any demo of the Droid - is Tricorder. You know like the hand-held gizmos that Spock and Bones always carried.  This app looks like the LCARS interface familiar to any fan of the newer "Next Generation" series.  It makes use of a few of the sensors available on most Android phones.  It will operate as a magnetic sensor (stud finder), a sound pressure/spectrum analyzer, gravitational sensor (how many G's can you pull in that turn), RF spectrum (wifi and 3g) analyzer, and a solar phase calculator.  Ever think your "phone" could do that?

Now I can do things like say "navigate to the museum with the king tut exhibit",  "find a Wendys on route".  After navigating me to lunch and the museum - (complete with street level views of my destinations) as I wait for my friends, my "phone" will tell me about next month's exhibit, get me a discount on my entry fee, tell me about the great Thai food across the street, alert me that my boss is also at the museum, update my facebook status - with a photo, and - yes call my mom on any of her numbers just by saying "call mom".  Last month I had the odd experience of having a Skype conversation from the back seat of a moving car in Wyoming with a friend in Perth while en-route to a restaurant that my "phone" had recommended and assured us was open - even on new years day. 

Personally I think we blew it when we started calling those last generation hand-held things "PDA"s.  If anything is a PDA - the Droid is it.  It actually assists. 

The new killer apps are the melding of location and real time data searching into what they are calling "augmented reality".   If you haven't seen these apps - they are amazing.  On Android there are several.  In general the apps take advantage of the device's camera, GPS, accelerometer, and internet connection and in real time searches multiple sources for info on your surroundings.  It will overlay the image with data from your choice of multiple sources. Such as Wikipedia, Google local, and even your social apps.  As you pan around the display might tell you the history of a building, the specials of the restaurant on the first floor and that your best friend (or someone you are currently avoiding) is currently there.  As you turn the other direction your phone might fill in the architectural drawings of the new building going up across the street, tonights band at the bar,  and tell you that there is a Starbucks on the next block (because your phone knows you like frappacinos). I'm watching with great interest as these AR apps grow into things like face recognition and call out for hardware. 

I'm betting that within a year or two we will see bluetooth connected glasses and maybe even contact lenses that will give us a full time heads up throughout our day.  For me it would be so helpful to have my "phone" remind me of a person's name, spouse, kids, birthday and anything I wanted to remember the next time I was in their presence.

The 90's sci-fi show "Earth the Final Conflict" had a device very similar to our current smart and super "phones".  They called it a "global".  We need a new term like that.

Anyway - any one have better ideas as to what we can call these things?  It seems like calling my Droid a "phone" is like calling an RV a wheelbarrow.

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