Smart phone functions seep into all sectors

January 16, 2011 By Troy Wolverton

The smart phone is quickly becoming an electronic Swiss Army knife.

Already used to surf the Web, check e-mail and get turn-by-turn directions, smart phones will soon acquire many more features and functions. At the Consumer Electronics Show last week, tech companies demonstrated how devices such as Apple's could be used to monitor blood pressure, serve as the brains and display for car radios, and even replace a traditional laptop or desktop computer.

I wrote before the show that the PC's reign as the dominant kind of computer was threatened by new devices, including smart phones, tablets and smart TVs. But it was eye-opening at CES to see the degree to which the smart phone is becoming the new PC - only more capable.

Consumers already can use the iPhone to remotely control set-top boxes, such as Apple TV. Soon, smart phones will be able to direct a much wider range of devices, including televisions, stereo amplifiers and DVD players, becoming, in effect, universal remote controls.

One new use for smart phones is to replace the brains or displays once built into stand-alone devices. For example, companies such as Withings are developing personal health devices, such as blood pressure cuffs, that attach by cable to an iPhone. An application on the iPhone initiates a blood pressure reading, displays the results and tracks readings over time.

Similarly, QNX, which is now owned by BlackBerry maker , demonstrated technology that would allow drivers to access smart-phone applications on the center console screens of their cars by connecting their phones to the consoles either wirelessly or by a cable. That would allow drivers to call up Pandora, say, without having to pick up their smart phone or have the app preinstalled on their car stereo system.

And a company called Oxygen Audio showed off an aftermarket car stereo unit that doesn't include a screen at all. Instead, it has a dock in front into which you slide an iPhone. The device relies on the iPhone to tune in Internet radio stations or access turn-by-turn directions and provides a special iPhone app to tune in FM or AM radio stations.

Meanwhile, auto giant General Motors and startup Mavizon Technologies have developed applications that allow smart phone users to connect to the sensors already in cars to find out when they need to change their oil or when their tire pressure is low.

Perhaps the most revolutionary steps are those that effectively transform smart phones into PCs. Motorola showed off an accessory for its upcoming Atrix smart phone that looked like a laptop. Only it wasn't really a computer. It was just a shell for a display, keyboard, track pad and battery; it had no CPU or operating system on it.

On the back, it had a dock for the Atrix smart phone. The Atrix comes with a program called Webtop that automatically launches when it's docked, allowing it to perform like a PC.

Driving this expansion of smart-phone capabilities are a number of factors. The processing power and memory within the devices are becoming comparable to what is found in PCs, allowing phones to run ever more powerful applications. Makers of the underlying phone operating systems have quickly evolved their software, allowing outside programmers to take advantage of a growing number of functions, sensors and capabilities built into the devices. And application marketplaces have made it easy to find and install new programs for smart phones.

But smart phones also have some inherent advantages over PCs: They're much more portable, they're aware of their location, and they're often much less expensive than PCs. That means consumers can upgrade them and take advantage of new features much more frequently.

This innovation focused on is certain to continue. Heck, it's getting to the point where I won't be surprised if the Swiss Army knife of devices even starts sporting a pocket knife or bottle opener. There's got to be an app for that, doesn't there?

Explore further: Motorola, in need of hit, shows off Android phone

More information: Troy Wolverton is a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.


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3 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2011
They aren't going to fully replace PCs any time soon. We still need much of the "wired" world, and I suspect we will need "wired" technology even more in the future as wireless channels become over crowded.

I don't even personally have a smart phone, because I have no personal use for it. I have a cell phone with a camera which is getting to be several years old now...

At this time, most of the Smart Phone usage is purely "Accessory" as we do not have the real world infrastructure to make the best usage of these things, and history shows that it takes a good 10 to 15 years for information "infrastructure" to be integrated into society.

Businesses are often using computers which are 5 to 10 years behind the top of the line, because they cannot afford to pay the price of the new computers and operating systems.

Additionally, you can't do everything on a smart phone. they have annoyingly small buttons that take too long to do input such as typing, and squint to see small fonts
4 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2011
Additionally, you can't do everything on a smart phone. they have annoyingly small buttons that take too long to do input such as typing, and squint to see small fonts
I've all but replaced my pc and can control the majority of my environment with my smart phone. I have a home controller, complete financial control, control of my schedule and a fully functional RDP client. The phone has an output for a monitor and I can plug in a usb keyboard and mouse.

It also functions as multiband wifi. You're just not really looking at the technology. It is world changing.
4 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2011
Voice recognition, or better yet, subvocal voice recognition and retinal projection are just around the corner. Interfacing with mobile technology won't be limited for long.
3 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2011
a fully functional RDP client.

Because it can't do everything. You need something with the space and power that only a PC can provide.

It's becoming an indispensable part of your IT solution, not replacing the whole thing.

There will always need to be a cutting edge. That cutting edge will pass through your desktop system to later be a "hand me down" technology for smartphones for generations to come.

I praise the innovation that smartphone have brought to the world. But it's pointless to say they will replace PC's in the near future.
3 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2011
In 2004 I was using my smartphone (nokia 6600) as a ir remote control for tv etc, controlling my pc (mouse & apps), real world apps like tomtom gps, guitar tuner, the list goes on.. and had plans to write an app for bluetooth control of my car sterio & window but never got round to it.
It has taken a long time for modern phones to better it.

Its a good thing & about time to expand, although I shudder when I hear the iphone getting such a mention, they were late commers to this area & are not the best example of a smartphone imho,
I give them credit for the superb user interface that has increased the expectations of consumers & set the UI standard that android has adopted & symbian has not..

As far as hardware to match a pc, i'm with the nokia N8 with its hdmi, plug & go usb. I sit watching movies off my external hdd on my hdtv with nothing but the N8 connecting the two. Web browsing on the bigscreen is also impressive & onboard storage is finally at a decent level.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2011
Its like saying the swiss army knife is a replacement to a garage of tools - its a simplified, portable and useful version of a more larger but more sophisticated set of tools.

As with the smart phone, I see no conflict between the two.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2011
Laptops are already in general decline due to the tablet, and smart phones are growing into mini-tablets.

Our desktop won't die, but it also won't be sitting at home/work, it will be in a cloud. Technology is not impeding this migration in the slightest. The main cause of delay is simply the licensing model most software companies use for their applications, combined with user familiarity with their legacy apps.

The only part of the article I disagreed with was the bit where smart phones were cheaper than the desktops/laptops. The latter should last you for years now, whereas the equally expensive smartphone is superseded at least once a year.

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