Apps make the smartphone

Posted on August 18, 2011


I’ve been thinking about how we accept new technology. There’s a lot of hype about it, and I realized that I had long ago accepted it. The technology, as you might suspect, is a cellphone—a smartphone.

Television, an equally important happening in my life, occurred with little notice. My dad and I and a neighbor hoisted a long antenna up next to our house. The three of us carried the huge box into the house, we had TV. I went to school the next morning as my sisters sat watching Captain Kangaroo.

I didn’t look back to when I saw my first TV or anything of the kind. It was in our lives. No conscious adaptation, but there had to be adaptation.

We spent so much time in front of TV. We give up something. Their schedule demanded we watch when they determined and if we had time we watched what they offered at that time. No alternatives. No OnDemand.

We ate in front of it. It lighted our living room for the rest of the time I remained home. A few years later, I saved enough to buy a used one. This time I needed only rabbit ears. Being in college, my roommates and I, co-owners, didn’t spent endless hours in front of it, but it was there. Background. “Talking away.” Soothing. We weren’t alone, or something similar.

I learned how to live with TV. I am better informed as I stop my TiVo and look up a fleeting reference, I didn’t quite catch. I automatically record shows I don’t want on their schedule. Is a smartphone different? In my pocket, wherever I go.

I recall a book I read, Always On. I’m sure it has two meanings. Is it the phone that is always on? Or, me?

What do I adapt to be always on? Conversations with my wife? With my friends? No. It has increased the availability of my friends, it assures me of their wellbeing. With “free long distance”, something I never suspected, more talk with distant relatives. Other benefits — change a scheduled meeting, instantly. Find a gas station near the highway.

I glance at the screen as it vibrates. Do I want to take that call? No, I’m busy. Actually it is easy to set an imaginary time and call back or, listen to the voice mail and respond. It makes my life a bit more available to a wider range of people.

Am I available to everyone that calls? Do I let the TV schedulers determine what I see and when? No.

Welcome to Information Country as I call it in my presentations about smartphones and iPads. A reoccurring question is. Who knows about me? TiVo presents that same question.

Privacy is fleeting, to put it mildly. Yes, the marketing people at TiVo, Google, Apple know a lot about me. If I don’t answer the rating questions of Netflix I keep them guessing. I turn off the GPS after I need it to find an address in a part of town where I seldom go.

So let’s see. TV entered my life and I learned to make it work for me. I should say Netflix and TiVo made it work for me. Screening calls allows me to use the small computer in my pocket to do what I want. Often it gives me a surprise call or Instant Message with a picture from someone I hadn’t thought about for a very long time.

And, now, the big one, cost. Do I have Netflix and cable? Do I cringe when the bills come in? TiVo helps, but it adds to the cost. Still haven’t worked that one out.

Smartphones like TV have a dollar cost, ouch, and a hidden time cost. Smartphones and iPads have long learning curves. Netflix and TiVo, the TV tamers, had a learning curve.

A smartphone, computer’s little cousin in my pocket, doesn’t just do my bidding. At work and at home I eventually found  the right mix of apps, services and knowledge level to get the job done. Apps tame the smartphone and the iPad.

Smartphones take a lot of time fiddling and testing apps. It took a long time to find and make Netflix and TiVo smooth out the TV schedule demands. Smartphones with some well selected apps will become “aware” of our needs. We will barely know adaptation happens. So, we can get back to watching TiVo.