Saturday, 24 November 2012

Best Gadget Ever

This was no atypical morning.
I woke up with the alarm clock. After a few seconds of figuring out that this really is another working day I started my morning routine from within my bed: I checked on the current weather and the forecast for the day, I checked how train services are running, I checked my to do list for the day, I checked my emails, I checked on the football scores (Arsenal was playing the Champions League), and I had a quick look at the news headlines.
Breakfast at home was accompanied by a browse of the latest IT news. I was then reminded I need to give my car away for servicing, so I picked on the navigation app to take me there in the best route as per current traffic conditions. During the drive I listened to an album I just discovered the other night from the little heard of Abbe May.
At the garage I picked my list of issues/requests and discussed them with the mechanic. Bidding him farewell, I made my way on foot to the nearest train station while checking train times. A train was due in three minutes; I burst into a jog.

All of the above was achieved with the aid of my smartphone, an iPhone 3GS, which for the past three years managed to change the way I do almost everything I do. Singlehandedly (pun intended), the iPhone managed to put the Internet into almost every activity of mine. The funny thing about it? By now, about four years since the iPhone 3 first arrived in Australia, all of the above would be a very boring read. “Tell us something we don’t know” would be the expected feedback. But think about the miracle of technological achievement we have been witnessing here!
I have had two smartphones before my iPhone, but these Windows Mobile devices were pathetic jokes. Now there are other smartphones that are significantly superior to my iPhone and superior to the current iPhone 5 in numerous aspects. However, even the biggest Apple hater cannot deny that it was Apple that established the smartphone into what it currently is.
Because of its ability to revolutionize the way I do everything by blending into everything I do, I consider my iPhone the best gadget I have ever had. By far!
Enjoy the beginning of your fourth year with me, iPhone 3GS; you deserve it. Even if, or perhaps because, it is likely to be your last (Apple announced future iterations of its iOS operating system will no longer support the 3GS).

I do have to add that smartphones do have significant problems. No, I’m not talking about the fact that people tend to play with their phones instead of socializing. (Let’s get it out of the way: I don’t need you to tell me I’m guilty of that; I know that fairly well.)
My main problem is with privacy. Smartphones collect an incredible amount of data about us: our contacts, our calendar, what we do on the web, our exact location… and all this information is largely available to the apps we let in our phone, our telcos, and often Apple/Google. Most people appear to be blissfully ignorant about these matters while I appear to be fighting a losing battle against them.
The approach I prefer to take is that of trying to be the master of my smartphone. It is very well secured to a level that a thief would find it no more than an awkward paper weight. I control its settings tightly and remove most applications that offend my privacy whenever these are identified (preferably before I install them, although as Angry Birds proved that is not always the case). I also prefer to avoid using features that, in my opinion, infringe on my privacy too much: for example, Android phones running Jelly Bean could have programmed the garage’s address to the navigation app by virtue of my schedule appointment alone; me, I prefer it if Google doesn’t know that much about me, where I am and where I am heading.
But it is bloody hard to keep Google at bay and, by extension, other corporates and governments. The smartphone thus becomes a double edged sword, a mighty tool on one hand but also a danger at the same time.

Update from 25/11/12:
Talking about the privacy implications of smartphone, here is a TED presentation from A/Professor Katina Michael from the University of Wollongong talking discussing the next step after smartphones - chipping:



Katina Michael is Vice Chair of the APF (Australian Privacy Foundation) and is active with EFA (Electronic Frontiers Australia), where I am a member.

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