It flashed on me last night. Jeopardy-style, the answer to the question “why do/will smartphones rule” is “because ‘there’s an app for that'”.
Let me explain. First, you have to be clear on what a smartphone is. David Pogue has tried to call the converged mobile platform which can be customized with applications the “app phone”, because he considers a smartphone to be a phone that can check email. Or, can surf the web, is data-enabled. Well, Bob Sanregret told me that there hasn’t been a cellphone sold in the past 2 years that didn’t have a web browser. Sorry, that’s not a smartphone, to me.
So I’m going to reserve smartphone for those augmented phones that are platforms: they have an OS that others can develop for and release applications on. BTW, it wasn’t the iPhone that was the first in the space; the Treo had a lively market around PalmOS.
So why do I think this is the killer market? Because these devices do two things: they are platforms, and they are convergent. They are increasingly providing the most potent and portable convergent devices imaginable, integrating a variety of sensors, forms of connectivity, and rich input and output into a handheld device. And they are providing this on a platform: a device that developers can integrate these capabilities to meet new and customized needs.
It so happens that the barriers to produce these applications are coming down, as well. Web technologies increasingly underpin the opportunities to develop on platforms, making the technical skills required quite accessible. It’s little more than creating a web page, which is increasingly available to all, and that makes it easy for tools to simplify even further.
What this means is that anyone can pretty much get pretty much anything they need. You can follow interests in popular media, including music, movies, television, books, comics, and more. You can access information for shopping, transportation, dining, or even just people to meet. You can perform magical tasks like calculating each person’s tab and tip, converting Farenheit to Celsius, or track the stars (astronomical and astrological, if you roll like that). The limits are no longer the technology, the limits are between our ears. If you can dream it, you can do it. I’ve quoted Arthur C. Clarke before “any truly advanced technology is truly indistinguishable from magic”. We’ll, we’re pretty much there. We’ve got the Star Trek tricorder in our mitts.
And that, to me, is the deal-clincher. When you can accessorize your brain the same way you do your bod, when you can augment your capabilities, not just your appearance, you’re suddenly capable of being the person you want to be. You’re a superhero! And all at the price of buying a customizable, personal platform. Who wouldn’t?*
*OK, I slipped off into hyperbole. I’m well aware that there are many people who can’t, or don’t (I live in the real world most of the time). But I’m predicting they will. And they’re already doing it, through SMS because they don’t yet have smartphones, they only have cellphones. But that will change, and as I mentioned earlier, I hope we don’t keep so obsessed with progress that we don’t take time to bring along everyone, not just those coming from fortunate backgrounds.