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The New Year and Mobiles and Smartphones, Oh My! (Part II)

January 10, 2011

SmartphonesAs promised, here is Part II of my last entry on the rise of handheld mobile devices, Merry Mobile and a Happy New Smartphone to You.

I’m starting out this post with a prediction for the new year: Mobile devices will take off in 2011 like nobody’s business.

Mobile Is Changing Us

In my last post, I noted that the mobile phone industry projects that half of all Americans will own a smartphone by this time next year. What’s more, there are expected to be 5 billion cell phones worldwide by later this year, according to Newsweek’s recent article on how Android is changing mobile computing.

And in case you were wondering, among the Things Babies Born in 2011 Will Never Know, is forgetting.

But what does that have to do with mobile phones? Well, “kids born this year will never know what it was like to…argue. Today the world’s collective knowledge is on the computer in your pocket or purse. And since you have it with you at all times, why bother remembering [or arguing about] anything?” You can just look it up, and settle most any debate in a matter of seconds.

If you’re like most people, you’ve gradually allowed your mobile device to begin supplementing your brain. I know I have; I “outsource” remembering things to my smartphone — you know, the kinds of things we used to try to keep in memory, like our appointments, and the birthdays and phone numbers of close friends and family. If we’re not careful, when we lose our devices, we’re lost. (Ever had someone you’ve known for years ask you for your phone number because they lost their phone?)

By allowing our mobile devices to act as our “exo-brains,” (a term coined by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert), we store knowledge in (or perhaps more accurately, at) our fingers. Presumably, this frees up our minds to do other, more important things — creative endeavors, finding cures, making a difference in the world perhaps — but maybe, we’re not really taking advantage of our exobrains yet. That Newsweek piece certainly makes me think so.

Mobile Is Changing the World

Man in Africa on mobile phoneThat Newsweek article also noted that “the mobile revolution may be the biggest wave ever to hit the world of computing.” Indeed. What seismic societal shifts will occur when “most of the residents of planet Earth carry a device that gives them instant access to pretty much all of the world’s information”?

This incredible explosion in popularity is largely due to the relatively lower cost of a handheld versus a full laptop or desktop, which makes owning a smartphone much more possible, even in poorer countries. In comparison with personal computers, which took three decades to reach the 1 billion mark worldwide, smartphones will have saturated the globe by 2013 — just 10 years after they were first introduced. And while many parts of the world still lack Internet connectivity, phone networks (which can also carry data) are relatively ubiquitous.

One example of the higher uses of mobile phones: they can put life-saving technologies into the hands of people who might not otherwise have it.

One anecdote I learned from an excellent presentation by designer David Berman: in Ghana, over 20% of pharmaceuticals sold are fake. But designers have worked with companies to create a system to check a drug’s authenticity so people can send an SMS text message of the number on the side of their medicine container, and receive a text back verifying whether the drug is actually real and effective before administering it to a loved one.

(Sure makes what I do with my phone — “Fruit Ninja” — seem less important.)

So, in summary: Mobile devices in the hands of everyone could be the world’s greatest equalizer yet.

As Berman says, ““More people have been liberated in the last 40 years by information technology that all of the wars and revolutions in the history of humanity.” Mobile is the next great frontier, the tiny screen that truly bridges the digital divide and brings the whole World Wide Web to the masses.

Its possibilities — for commerce, politics, education, communication, globalization, and more — are endless.

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