Is the smartphone really “the new PC,” or is it more like an “electronic Swiss Army knife”? Some are now suggesting that — with the ongoing introduction of new software apps and hardware add-ons — the mobile phone is kind of akin to a jackknife with an ever-widening set of tools.
These days, smartphones such as Verizon’s new 4G-enabled Motorola Droid Bionic are showing up with speedy dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 chips, while HTC, LG and Samsung have multiple models with fast 1 GHz processors. If you’ve taken a look at Windows 7-driven Dell Venue Pro, for example, you’ve probably noticed that keyboards are getting more readily thumbable, too.
Also to assist with data entry, Swipe is now here (if you can get it to work for you, that is). At the same time, screen sizes are expanding, setting a record thus far of five inches with the Dell Streak 5.
Yet, not everyone buys into the theory that the smartphone is turning into the “new PC.” Essentially, critics argue that, despite progress on the smartphone side, desktop PCs, notebooks, and even tablets still offer you richer processing, display and input capabilities.
All of this has lead to an on-going debate about whether smartphones are going to be the PC of the future, or if they should be thought of instead like a multi-functional utility knife.
Phones Take Control of TVs, DVDs and Automotive Sensors
In a recent editorial in the San Jose Mercury News, Troy Wolverton discussed how iPhones and other phones are gaining connectivity to (and control over) TVs and DVDs, plus esoteric devices such as blood pressure cuffs for home health care, in-vehicle Internet radio and stereo systems, and sensors for telling you when a car needs an oil change.
Although Wolverton didn’t mention this particular announcement, a Swiss company named Reycom used CES to introduce a new Windows Media Center set-top box that can be controlled remotely from Windows Phone 7 smartphones. Phone-controllable functions of Reycom’s new REC 7 box include a TV tuner, Internet connectivity, and a built-in Blu-ray player.
Wolverton did point to a new docking station device for the upcoming Motorola Atrix 4G phone. The add-on will let you plug the handheld into a laptop-shaped accessory with a 10-inch display, full QWERTY keyboard, trackpad, and battery.
Motorola’s docking station is somewhat reminiscent of a set of accessories — such as the Desktop Doc and Keyboard Doc — unveiled by Samsung last fall. Samsung’s add-ons, however, are for its Galaxy Tab tablet, as opposed to its Galaxy S smartphone series.
Traditional PCs are meanwhile providing more and more new features — such as video Webcams and VoIP apps — that make them increasingly well qualified members in the venerable old product category of “converged devices.”
Smartphones for Finding Your Way around and Reading NFC Tags
The smartphone does appear to be the one device that fits the Swiss Army knife metaphor best. Like a jackknife, a phone is compact and easily portable. For much the same reasons, smartphones are also taking over the functionality of a few other more dedicated mobile devices.
In releasing the original Motorola Droid, for example, its maker also rolled out an in-vehicle mount that allowed the early Android OS phone to start doubling as a driving navigation system right away.
Software developers are now building rising numbers of specialized GPS phone apps to help people find their way by foot around spaces such as department store mazes and college campuses.
But just as with a real Swiss Army knife, you might not find all of the “blades” on your phone to be personally that useful. To give one example, the new Samsung Nexus S — the first smartphone to ship with Android OS 2.3 (“Gingerbread”) — also comes with some built-in hardware support for NFC (near field communications).
‘Some’ is the operable word here, though, as Google recently voiced plans to add a second NFC chip to the Nexus S. After that happens, apps might ultimately emerge that will let you buy items just by waving your smartphone in front of a NFC reader.
Yet for the moment, the NFC in the Nexus S is read-only. All you can do with it is read information like contact Web site URLs embedded into NFC tags on stickers and T-shirts.