A Computer in Every Pocket?

In January of 2007, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, Inc. got on stage at the yearly “Macworld” event for his keynote address. These events are looked forward to with great anticipation as often something new and groundbreaking is introduced. The prior year Jobs had introduced the Macbook Pro, a small lightweight laptop that had amazing power for its size and mobility. After the cheers died down, and under the expectation to be entertained (usually reserved for rockstars) bearing down on him from the crowd, he introduced the iPhone.

Americans have a love affair that is immediately apparent the moment you enter any public place. The second you do so you will notice the resulting odd behavior that does not seem to be natural to the human species.

What looks at first like a muscle spasm, or twitch, will eventually reveal itself as something completely inorganic. People constantly lifting their hands up to the side of their heads and holding them for varying lengths of time. An outsider to our world would not understand the reason for this behavior, though anyone who has lived in any semi-urban area sometime during the past fifteen years will be completely savvy of what these people are doing. They are using cell phones. Mobile devices. Call them what you will, but there is no denying that these little antennae-equipped pieces of plastic and metal have wedged their way into our social fabric.

Why do we love our phones so much? There are many different possible answers to this question, and these could vary depending on whom you ask. I would like to cover many of these reasons, but also talk about why we will love them. Yes, as if we do not already feel inseparably connected enough, there is more to come. As mobile phones and devices become more and more easy to use, cheaper and widely available, they will continue to forge their place in our modern tech-infused society. The future of computing is mobile. We will be able to take our main computers with us wherever we go. I would like to explain how phones have wedged their way into our lives, and why that is not such a bad thing. Also, I will explain why they will continue to become advanced and how.

So what does the future have in store? Today you can buy a cell phone for next to nothing. One of the first cell phones, the DynaTAC, was the size of a brick and cost $3,500. This was in 1983, when phones of this kind weighed sixteen ounces. Cell phones today weigh an average of just three ounces and are considerably cheaper. In fact, many phones come “free” with activation of a contract (usually for a minimum of two years) because of the subsidization of the price by the carrier. This means that the service provider, such as T-Mobile, will pay for some of the price of the phone to get it into the customer’s hands because they need to pay them in order to use it.

In the past couple of years, a new kind of phone has become prevalent. The smartphone, as they have come to be called, has made its mark and is here to stay. The term smartphone applies to any mobile device that does a variety of tasks in addition to making calls. These usually include sending, composing, and receiving emails, calendaring and other tasks. One company, Research in Motion, has introduced a product called the Blackberry, whose name has become ubiquitous with the variety. Corporations have adopted these as a way to keep their employees connected at all times (and possibly working at all times too).

Businessmen are not the only people who have fallen for their phones. Teens and parents alike have both enjoyed the surge of cheaper phones on the market. Unlike the past, parents are now able to contact their teens (and sometimes even young children) at a moments notice, keeping them on a sort of digital leash. This is something that most teens welcome, however, as it allows them to contact their friends with the same frequency through calls and primarily through text messaging.

Have you ever forgotten your phone? If you are like most Americans, this can bring an incredibly inconvenient and isolating feeling. Many questions go through your head such as: “Is someone trying to contact me? Will they think that something happened to me?” This is multiplied by the fact that we have all but gotten rid of all pay phones and asking to use a phone could be eliminated as an option since we might not know the number we would like to call, as it is in our address book. . . in our phone. There are many who argue the attachment that we have to our phones is not healthy. What could be wrong with using them too much?

Some argue that kids today are losing the ability to communicate because of email and text messaging. These forms of communication that are somewhat detached, without a doubt, do make it easier to say some things you wouldn’t normally say in person, allowing people to become dependant on them for communicating those kind of things. For instance, it is much easier to text “We’re through” to a girlfriend or boyfriend than to meet them face to face and talk about it. And this could take away these essential social interactions that h
elp build communications skills.

Although our children’s communication skills are being degraded, we need to realize that the same thing is happening to adults with email. Snide remarks and forwarded private messages are wreaking havoc at times. We cannot ignore this though; we need to deal with it as a society. As a natural progression, people will subconsciously adopt social norms and develop skills and new ways of combating the negative effects of these technologies, which have far greater advantages. People probably said the same things about the telephone when it was invented, but we must not step backward, but forward. This technology is here to stay, and as a result we may have to change our way of thinking.

Giving children cell phones can also potentially lead to big bills. With online downloads, picture messaging, text messaging and, of course, calls all coming with a price tag (especially if set limits are exceeded), it is quite a risk to equip a child with less than perfect judgment with a weapon of mass impoverishment!

There are things to combat this, however, such as online parental controls that are now emerging in the market. “Firefly Mobile, a Chicago company that makes handsets for children, offers simple, kid-friendly handsets with narrow capabilities. A new phone to be offered in October called the glowPhone does not come with a regular keypad. Instead, it has speed-dial keys for mom and dad and an emergency 911 panic key. The company says the phone, which costs $49.99, is appropriate for kids ages 5-8” (Searcey). As people of all ages get these devices, innovations in the market will alleviate any concerns that parents have of giving them to their children. After all, what is so much different about your needs to be connected from a child’s? If anything, the dangers more associated to children, such as abduction, and their reliance on adults, should vindicate their need for a phone equal to that of an adult.

We call them “phones” but that term is becoming somewhat outdated with all of the things that they can do. Smartphones are becoming more prevalent as well, but now we are advancing even further. What do you use your computer for? For most people, the answer might be work, communication, and entertainment. Many people often find themselves in line som
ewhere wishing that that the time they were spending could be utilized some other way. The reason that we have technology is to make life easier and allow for more leisure time, so if they were able to complete some of that work they had to do while waiting in line at the DMV, wouldn’t that allow them to spend time with their kids when they got home rather than finishing that work? This is the idea behind mobile devices doing more than just making calls.

The introduction of the iPhone brought us into a new age of mobile computing. Not long after it was introduced, Apple added the “App Store” to the device. The App store is a online marketplace for applications to be sold or given away that have been developed by people just like you and me, or by corporations and gamemakers such as Namco, maker of the popular title “Pac-Man.” Using a phone one can browse applications that entertain, organize and do pretty much anything imaginable. For instance, if someone has a problem remembering where they have parked, the application “G-Park” will use the phone’s built in GPS to direct them to their car using a map. If they are visiting another country, there are a variety of apps that have phrases in other languages that can be read or spoken by the application to help them get around. If someone needs to know a phone number or address to a restaurant, they can look it up, and the phone will even direct them there using the built in GPS. The possibilities are endless because of its open source nature. Open source means that anyone can add to or fix the coding of applications. If someone wanted to make an application that has a picture of their likeness dancing back and forth, they could (though it might not likely be a hit with others).

But Apple is not the only corporation to play this game (Ewing, 67). Business Week author Stephen Wildstrom, in analyzing the market, said, “In the 15 months since it introduced the iPhone, Apple has radically changed our expectations for mobile phones. But the rest of the industry isn’t standing still. We’re likely to see a fresh round of innovation as T-Mobile rolls out the first handset based on Google’s Android operating system. And Research In Motion is fiercely defending its mobile e-mail turf with very good new products. Of the two, outsider Google faces the tougher challenge. But based on a preliminary look at the T-Mobile G1, announced on Sept. 23, launching in the U.S. and Europe in late October, I’d say it has a shot” (75).

So what else is being offered? As mentioned before, Research in Motion (RIM) has begun to challenge Apple and their iPhone for the number one spot. Introducing the “Storm,” a touchscreen device to be part of the Blackberry line, RIM hopes to take back the market that newcomer Apple took away. In a review of the handset, Edward Baig said, “I briefly got my hands on the large, high-resolution touch display device recently and came away impressed. The Storm’s touch-screen ‘clicks’ when you gently press it, promising an experience that is somewhat like a BlackBerry with a physical keyboard. As with the iPhone, you can orient the screen in portrait or landscape position” (Baig 5). It seems the comparison to Apple is mandatory, as they have set the standard. RIM also plans to roll out and App store of its own, though dates for release have not yet been divulged.

Google, of search engine, Maps, and email provider fame (as well as countless others), has joined the party with their new Android operating system (OS). An OS is the software that runs on a device. For instance, Windows Vista is an OS, as is “OSX” by Apple. It is what one sees when they turn their computer or phone on. What makes Google’s Android OS so special is that it is completely open source, meaning that there are as few restrictions as possible. Some have complained that Apple is too controlling of what applications make it into the App store, so Android is seen as an alternative, providing implementation of whatever people can dream up. As opposed to Apple’s iPhone, Android is not a piece of hardware, but the software that runs on devices made by other makers. At the time of this article, there is only one phone available running Android-HTC’s “dream.”

Why wouldn’t we want to convert our computing experience into a more mobile form? John Friedman, an information systems professional, stated, “Gaps in information security could threaten the explosive growth of mobile computing. Recent losses and thefts of laptops containing confidential employee and customer data have proved extremely costly and embarrassing to leading companies and government agencies. Profit-motivated hacks and social engineering attacks have begun to target enterprise employees as avenues into the corporate dat
a center. And since hackers and cyber-criminals gravitate toward the largest targets of opportunity, the rapid expansion of mobile computing will inevitably draw more attention to vulnerable mobile systems in the future” (165).

Data loss can be extremely serious business. Since mobile phones are carried around everywhere their owner goes, having sensitive data can be risky. Mobile phones are also and easier target since they are smaller and easier to lose. Imagine if customer information were kept on a phone such as credit card and social security numbers, and it was left in a taxicab. Imagine if that information were for a large, fortune 500 company with millions of names and numbers. The results could be catastrophic.

Makers of these devices are well aware of the risks and are already ahead of the curve, providing solutions to these problems. In an article for Information Week, Alexander Wolfe mentions that “Apple. . . supports two-factor authentication and the ability to remotely wipe the devices of data should they be lost or stolen” (28). What this means is that even if one of these devices is lost, the IT supervisor can trigger the phone to completely erase all of the data contained on it wherever it may be, kind of like Mission Impossible’s self destructing tapes.

There is also potential for people working too much. With the ability to take their work with them at all times to an even greater degree than ever before, people may be unable to escape the demands of the office even when they are on vacation. This could have an adverse affect on people’s ability to draw the line between their personal and occupational responsibilities. Employers may soon believe “If someone has the ability to work while on the go, why shouldn’t they?” In fact Microsoft has equipped some busses with their Office Suite (Word, Excel, etc) in China. Who knows if this is indicative of where we are going!

I believe that as society progresses, however, we will adapt. It is my opinion that people are getting better at silencing their ringers before a movie starts, though they were poor at remembering years ago. Even if it turns out that we never do find that perfect line between personal time and doing business, we may find a way to bill that time to the company even if it is in the midst of our vacation. Humans in general will speak up if they disagree with something, and I don’t believe this is an exception. I believe that technology will, in fact, benefit us rather than harm us.

Business people who are constantly travelling for their work are sometimes called “road warriors” because travelling can be tiresome and sometimes frustrating. Some road warriors would like to lighten their load. Steve Rubel, in predicting our digital future mentioned, “Too often mobile is an afterthought rather than a focal point. Some executives I know leave their laptops at home when traveling on business since their smart-phones carry the load. In 10 years this will be the norm, as mobile devices, powered by cloud computing, wirelessly connect to keyboards, mice and monitors and offer as rich an experience as today’s computers do. This trend toward one device that does it all will be a catalyst for mobile marketing” (18).

Cloud computing is when all of your data is kept on a computer connected to the Internet, but accessible through other devices enabling you too keep massive amounts of data at your fingertips. This way you have potentially unlimited storage space on any device!

Having more advanced mobile devices will allow us to complete remedial tasks faster. If we look at the personal computer industry, we can see examples of this. Many people now work from home completely or part-time due to advances such as the Internet and computers. In the past, if you wanted to plan a night out, you had to look in the paper for what movies were playing, call and buy a ticket, look up the restaurant, and call for a reservation. Now, with smartphones, one can buy a ticket for the movie wanted through the device’s web browser, then call the restaurant by looking it up in “Google Maps,” all while walking out the door on the way to your car.

Technology is here to help us in our lives. If we adopt it and learn how to use it, it can be a blessing. However if we avoid it and resist it, it can annoy us as others implement it in their lives resulting in us having to begrudgingly adopt it ourselves. “[There are] five different groups responsible for how new gadgets trickle through society: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and, last and least, laggards” (Bigge 59). The “laggards” are the people who unwillingly use computers in their lives because of others requesting to email something to them, rather than the fact that email is free and instant. In society we need people who dream big and push the limits. Although we are fine with plugging in our computers in order to power them, what if you never had to? Although making a grocery list is not that hard, what if fridges ordered groceries for their owners? Both of these things, as well as many more, are already possible, though not perfected (Strohmeyer 98). These ideas of tomorrow will be indispensable in the future.

If we avoided new technology as a society, we would still be lighting our houses with candles. Although some new technology seems frivolous, as mentioned before, I’m sure that people thought that way about many other technologies such as radio and air conditioning in the beginning.

Works Cited
Baig, Edward. “Could Storm Threaten iPhone?” USA Today 08 Oct 2008: 05 B.
Bigge, Ryan. “Low Tech Chic.” Maclean’s 1 Aug 2008: 59-59.
Ewing, Jack. “Nokia’s Bid to Rule the Mobile Web.” Business Week 13 Oct, 2008: 67- 72.
Friedman, John. “Protecting Data on Mobile Devices: A Taxonomy of Security Threats to Mobile Computing and Review of Applicable Defenses.” Information Knowledge Systems Management Vol. 7 2008: 159-180.
Rubel, Steve. “For the Future of Digital, Get Your Head in the Cloud.” Advertising Age 25 Aug 2008: 18-18.
Searcey, Dionne. “Keeping Junior on a Wireless Leash.” Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition 250.54 (04 Sep. 2007): D1-D2. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 9 Nov. 2008 .
Segan, Sascha. “Smartphone Central.” PC Magazine 27.13 (Dec. 2008): 89-94. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. UVU Library, Orem, UT. 24 Nov. 2008 .
Strohmeyer, Robert. “Your PC in 2008 and Beyond. PC World 25.11 (Nov. 2007): 98-108. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. UVU Library, Orem, UT.
Wildstrom, Stephen. “Nipping at iPhone’s Heels.” Business Week 6 Oct, 2008: 75-76.

Wolfe, Alexander. “Your Next Computer.” Information Week 6 Oct, 2008: 26-33.


1 Comment

Filed under Geek Stuff, Rant, Tech

One response to “A Computer in Every Pocket?

  1. Chad Waite

    Dang dude. First, that was a long post but well written. And you have attributive tags. Impressive. And I do have to agree that the evolution of the complexity of mobile technology seems to correspond with how much we integrate it into our lives and accept the feeling that we cannot without it.

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