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Phones That Rule Everything

April 19, 2011

The existing and emerging smart-phone applications shown here draw upon mobile devices’ inherent power, sensing and location-finding capacities, access to Internet-based “cloud” services, and burgeoning popularity.

A. The Social Network: Services like Foursquare allow people to broadcast their location in order to meet up. Near-field communication chips and peer-to-peer software could make it possible to exchange photos and data by “bumping” phones.
B. Translate This: A mobile-phone owner points the device toward a sign. An app translates the text and displays the new language over the image on the phone’s display.
C. Target Me: Some existing services offer text-message advertisements from nearby retailers or restaurants, chosen according to the user’s location. Customized messages on displays or billboards could be a future application.
D. iPhone Cash Register: Square, a startup, provides a card-swiping attachment, an app for ringing up sales, and links to credit card companies, enabling retailers to accept payments on iPhones and iPads.
E. Instant Photo Search: In one application of mobile photo analysis, a customer takes a photo of a product’s bar code and searches for reviews and prices.
F. Pay Phone: Devices containing near-field communication chips, which transmit ID numbers to readers within a few centimeters, can be used to make payments or check in to flights.

Location technologies can serve a variety of purposes. GPS chips and location identifiers based on Wi-Fi signal strength allow people to find and map friends or colleagues. Cameras and network connections allow not only real-time photo updates but also search applications that call upon cloud resources to identify what’s in the photo—and even to translate text.

Near-field communication chips can make it possible to pay for a transaction by passing the phone over a reading device—a technology that’s already widely used in Korea and Japan. As such chips become common in more devices, it will increasingly be possible to share photos and other data by “bumping” gadgets together.

Of course, smart phones can also do things like load vehicle entertainment and navigation systems and control PCs, televisions, and printers in homes and offices. And with more than 450 million smart phones expected to reach consumers in 2011, these devices’ applications could evolve in ways we haven’t yet imagined.

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