A Smartphone Explosion Could Impact Science

This entry was posted by Sunday, 12 April, 2009
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The future of computing is in your pants (pockets). Or your bag. Anywhere, actually, but your desktop. “Smartphones”, once geeky, are now “cool”, having been blessed by Apple and the iPhone. Generally, smartphones offer computer-ish functionality combined with highly integrated mobile phones. And they’re finding ways to distinguish themselves by incorporating hardware such as accelerometers to adjust the orientation of the display, touch screens (becoming standard),  GPS, high resolution cameras, WIFI, Bluetooth, removable storage, swappable batteries, fold-out keyboards, RFID scanners and you-name-its. With all that stuff on board, you wouldn’t think a bird could easily fly off with one of these devices. But they are both light and, often, lovely to behold.

As the current smartphone champ, the Iphone, to many, represents the future of ultra mobile computing. Small, elegant, and engaging, it is fun to use. But the race for dominance is just beginning. Five major competing systems are aiming at Apple’s iPhone which presents a moving target as it carefully evolves its own product line. At present,  the iPhone, though quite terrific, offers only a “soft” (simulated) keyboard, relies on the AT&T network (good but, arguably, not best), has some significant battery limitations (most Smartphones do, actually), and that very nice glass screen behaves as you might expect it to when it collides with something hard.

Google’s Android has the biggest/goodest company in the world behind it though it is still anchored to T-mobile’s come-from-behind network which, in the US, isn’t necessarly an advantage though it’s strong in Europe. Its first phone, G1, was well reviewed and several more phones are likely to be released this year. Android, with Google behind it, may find acceptance in other devices such as “net computers” and desk top boxes. And Google’s committment to cloud computing in which Google, itself, supplies the processing power from its remote computing “clouds” sounds like the perfect match for the limitations of an elegant but tiny cell phone. There are many who think it is Google which will, ultimately, displace Apple in the mobile world.

The Blackberry Storm was released this year and was initially seen as a possible iPhone crusher. But, the usually competent Research in Motion, may have rushed a bit and the implementation, while full of promise had flaws. A new “Storm 2” is expected later this year and the software for the current version is being updated to address some of the original imperfections.

Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, which doesn’t get the credit it deserves (my opinion) for pioneering so MANY of the ideas that current smart phones now use, is seen as SO pre-iPhone. And Microsoft is working on Windows Mobile 6.5, its newest weapon. I should note that with a little ingenuity, even the current version of Windows Mobile is perfectly capable of supporting a darn nice phone as evidenced by the omnia.

And pesky Palm, instead of going away gracefully, has returned with the Palm Pre which is at the “reviewers love this thing” stage. Often, this presages the, “What were they THINKING?” stage but that won’t be possible till it really gets into the hands of the pesky populace.

Finally, there’s Symbian which I was going to describe as “a proprietary operating system which was commonly used on advanced phones until the era of the smartphone,” but I see that Nokia has completed its purchase of Symbian and, as a part of its strategy, has opened Symbian to Linux developers. Symbian, with Nokia’s help, has the potential to surprise.

And if you think I’ve lost my way, I have not. I AM back to science. Very much so. Science is a product of the human brain – the human brain and all its trappings which now include the many computers upon which we rely. Try to imagine astrophysics or biochemistry without the digital mishmash of acquisition systems, controllers, analyzers, displays, and whatnot. Barely possible. 

Because computer-ish phones are already such a commonplace – so familiar, so small, and so cute, it’s easy to mispercieve the importance of this development of TRULY personal computing and its affect on science as well as on us. They, these pocket things, will, no doubt, BECOME our newspapers, our entertainment, our new friends and helpers (in countless ways), turning us into citizen reporters, capable, if amateur, creative geniuses, and, perhaps, citizen legislators as well. Maybe, even, the eyes and ears of the police. Just imagine what they will do for the scientist in the field. Or in the lab.

But, maybe I am making too much of all this.

After all. They’re just phones.


Chronic pain is so very common. Often, it’s disabling and, much too often, nothing seems to really help. This work at Children’s Hospital, Boston, could do much good if it makes it to the clinic. 

6 Responses to “A Smartphone Explosion Could Impact Science”

  1. Dick Pirozzolo

    Yup — it’s content that is king… and these phones are packed with or rather deliver it — from what used to be newspapers to all the knowledge and computing power in the world… what will we call newspapers when they are no longer paper?

  2. Mobile computing is on the rise these days. Maybe we will get a dual core powered cellphones in the future.:”.

  3. mobile computing nowadays is not yet very powerful compared to netbooks but time will come that it would become like that.”*~

  4. mobile computing always have a growing trend in the succeding years”~`

  5. we would likely see an increase in the demand for mobile computing in the years to come`;”

  6. we need some smaller and energy efficient microprocessors to support mobile computing ~”

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