Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

26 January 2010

Accessorize your brain

Clark @ 10:30 AM

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.


  1. In your opinion, is there anything you can do on an iPad that you couldn’t do better on a laptop? Will developers of web-based apps for laptops simply strip down their apps for an iPad or should they consider unique functionalities of the iPad to create a fundamentally different experience? And what are those unique functionalities? That’s what’s missing for me as I learn more about the iPad. I feel that if it’s not really small enough to be mobile, why wouldn’t I just access my laptop? (With the economy the way it is, I’ll be choosy about the electronics I buy.) What are your thoughts about this?

    Comment by dianne — 30 January 2010 @ 7:58 AM

  2. Dianne, interesting question, but I’m not sure it’s the right one. It’s not the equivalency to a laptop (by no means is it equivalent: no multi-tasking for one) that’s at issue, the question is, does the iPad have a unique contribution in the portable computation space. Is there a meaningful space between the smartphone and the laptop?

    I think there is (see my two immediately more recent posts for *some* thoughts). I think a bigger screen makes content interactions (and I mean more than just static content, cf the NY Times example) more amenable, and still more personal than a laptop. And, there can be more interactive interactions as well, exploratory environments and simulations.

    I also think the form factor actually makes a nice compromise in big enough to be able to take notes at a lecture or conference versus a laptop which is just too big and heavy. Yes, that’ll change and netbooks have their place, but I think the thinness and lightness strikes a compelling sweet spot. Why do people read with eReaders instead of laptops? It’s a better form factor. Oh, and the purported battery life…

    Right now, I try to travel without my laptop, but usually bring it if I’m going overnight. I might’ve gotten a MacBook Air when it was time to upgrade, now I’ll seriously consider the iPad. It’s not a replacement for my iPhone, but it’s just the right sized adjunct that I can really do meaningful note taking on it, and it’s so much smaller, which will remove my need to bring a laptop for travel.

    I’m not getting it yet (well, I can’t), and the economy is an issue, but the low price point they hit really makes it attractive. I’m choosy too (read: cheap), but I’ve been looking for a solution. I like the 13″ MB Pro, but I might decide to get a mini or iMac as a desktop and get something smaller to travel with. Your mileage may vary.

    Comment by Clark — 30 January 2010 @ 4:17 PM

  3. Clark,

    I like your concept map!

    It will be interesting to see how the iPad and similar-sized net-books play outin the near future.

    I think there are many people who have no desire to have a laptop that might consider an iPad especially if they are thinking about purchasing an e-reader. Baby boomers who thought they’d be retiring are updating their skills in one fashion or another. Their kids are in their 20’s and 30’s, taking on multiple roles as spouses and parents, and often returning to school as well. Families are geographically scattered, but connected through the web and applications such as Facebook and Skype.

    Comment by Lynn Marentette — 1 February 2010 @ 2:40 AM

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