Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mobile Phones - Salvation or Addiction?

Lost on a back road one evening in my 1997 Subaru, I turn on my smartphone’s navigation system to find my way home and realize that the lady in my phone, who politely tells me to turn left in 1000 feet, may (at that moment) be my best friend and that my phone is rapidly becoming my universal remote control to the world. When did this happen? 

I’m a bit surprised, as I start a laundry list in my head, by the number of activities that my smartphone enables. It has become my digital corridor to access pretty much everything when I need it. In addition to alerting me to messages and giving me the time, if I’m out for a walk, I take pictures of plants and text them to my gardening buddy to identify or share pictures of my grandkids with my neighbors.  

Of course, I have my online calendar synced and all my contacts integrated together so I can easily connect for that video conference call or find the phone number for my next appointment if I’m running late. In the evening when I’m watching TV, I keep my phone handy so that, during commercials, I can search for product information (you know, movies for my grandson and wrinkle cream) or check my emails.  

I’ve recently added another activity to take advantage of the “sensing capability” of my smartphone. You know you can download apps onto your smartphone that recognize the media that you’re watching or listening to. These apps then broadcast related content directly to your phone’s small screen. There are a bunch of social TV companies producing these. Here are a couple of the more popular apps, just to give you an idea of how they work. 
 
One is Viggle. It’s a loyalty program that gives people real rewards for checking into the television shows they’re watching.  Viggle automatically identifies what television shows its users are watching and awards them points when they check in. Users can redeem their points in the app’s rewards catalogue for items such as movie tickets, music, and gift cards.
 
Another is GetGlue, a social network for sharing with friends what you’re watching, listening to, or reading. You check in to rate your favorite shows, movies, and music; you earn stickers, and GetGlue also recommends other media based on your preferences and what your friends like.
 
My favorite is Shazam, which started out by enabling users to recognize any song by simply turning on this musical app and directing it to the source of the melody. Shazam has evolved from a basic song identification service to a portal to second-screen experiences combining innovation and entertainment with some of the world’s biggest television shows — even the Super Bowl! Turns out, according to Mashable, there are plenty of benefits for advertisers and TV shows alike to interact with viewers through Shazam’s interface, and people are responding to the added value that “Shazaming” brings to ads and shows.
 
I know it sounds like I’ve just made watching “True Blood” or “Covert Affairs” more complicated, but if you dabble in some second screen usage, you may find it’s kind of fun. You’ll also find, as I have, that there’s a dialogue emerging, thanks to this “sensing capability” in our smartphones, between us and our appliances (TVs, refrigerators, our home, our cars…well, not my car, but you get the idea). 
 
Using our phones to control our environment is an amazing trend. In fact, you’re carrying more computer processing capability in your phone than the Apollo program employed to put a man on the moon. Increasingly, we’re using this processing power as a “universal remote control for our environment,” as Greg Satell, in his article on Co-creation and The New Web of Things, points out. Imagine where this might lead us while you take a look at this video from IBM’s smarter planet initiative. It shows how “sensing” technology is giving the earth a “central nervous system.”