Smartphones … getting smarter in a pocket near you

Smartphones … getting smarter in a pocket near you

Name the non-human thing whose temporary loss is most guaranteed to cause waves of panic, nausea and even grief.

Car or house keys? The TV remote control? The pet dog? All pale into insignificance compared to the accidental absence of one’s smartphone. Okay, maybe not the dog.

Can anyone really remember a time when ordinary pedestrians looked where they were going rather than at a small glass screen 6 to 12 inches from their nose? Is it really not so long ago that lonely restaurant diners were unable to disguise their lack of company by pretending they had a whole world of substitute friends at their fingertips?

As I look out at the hundreds of executives attending the Broadcast Asia conference in Singapore, am I surprised that so many are scrolling with their fingertips rather than chatting to new acquaintances? No I’m not. Because the smartphone has become our nearest and dearest non-human companion.

It is the repository of our work and non-work worlds. It contains all of our most personal tastes – music, films, websites, photographs and apps. It says everything about us, both to ourselves and to our social networks. Even the security of cloud back-up does little to dent the fear of losing what has fast become our additional memory bank and an essential extra limb for modern living.

And now the smart phone is becoming even smarter. Let’s take just two initiatives of many being discussed at Broadcast Asia which makes this point.

Mickey Kim from Google believes the transformation of the computer and the mobile telephone by the internet has somehow stopped short with the television. Even the Smart TV, he believes, somehow failed to really become an easy place to use as a PC. Manufacturers loaded more and more complexity onto their televisions - but people stubbornly refused to use it with 84% of people turning to a second device for internet interaction whilst continuing to watch television on television. Albeit it, increasingly, television content that was being delivered over the internet.

Moreover, television remote controls remained clumsy impersonal devices which compared badly with the flexibility of an index finger when choosing to surf the net.

And so, Google’s Chromecast was born. A wi-fi device that plugs into the television and allows the user to turn their smartphone into a highly personal and user-friendly remote control device. Twenty-four million devices have been sold and it still isn’t available in all of the world’s markets.

And then there is the smartphone as a DAB radio. Joan Warner, the upfront no-nonsense chair of commercial radio in Australia described a fascinating pilot project in which a new LG android phone has been integrated with a DAB radio chip.

So what’s the big deal? Well – the quality of the sound compared to streamed audio for a start. The way it uses a tenth of the battery power of live streaming. The way it can play a visual ad on the phone during an audio ad and then allow the user to click through for more details. It is also robust and reliable at times of civil emergency when people need to know what’s happening wherever they are - even if the internet has crashed due to sudden multiple use.

It’s only one phone in one country – but many other governments and DAB broadcasters are showing an interest in the advantages of this hybrid model delivering both DAB and the internet on one portable device.

The Economist recently hailed the smartphone as the defining technology of the first part of the 21st century, outselling PCs by four to one. It has become the centre of how we live our lives (….or end them by causing us to be run over). It can connect to our smart watch, our virtual reality goggles, our cars and now our televisions and high quality radio broadcasters.

But be warned. You can still lose it down the back of the sofa.

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Last modified on 02 June 2016
Andy Griffee

Advises on strategy, organisational structures & all aspects of change programmes.