Is the Smartphone Becoming the PC Replacement?

According to a recent Pew Research study, nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone, and 19% of Americans rely to some degree on a smartphone for accessing online services and information and for staying connected to the world around them. The number that fascinates me, however, is that 7% of Americans own a smartphone but have neither traditional broadband service at home, nor easily available alternatives for going online other than their cell phone. That number is growing. (See https://goo.gl/yf1y57 for the full results of the Pew Research study.)

Basic cell phones only place and receive telephone calls. Others add cameras. However, the real growth area lies with the intelligent cell phones that have built-in computer functionality. These are typically called “smartphones.” Let’s examine these and especially look at the genealogy applications available.

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Smartphones available today include the Apple iPhone, Android phones, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and others. Besides serving as telephones, these smartphones allow the user to install and use various programs, such as web browsers, email programs, spreadsheet programs, word processors, genealogy programs, instant messaging programs, GPS navigation, and a wide variety of games. Most smartphones now have a variety of programs to choose from, including some that access and update Facebook and Twitter. In other words, smartphones are computers in the same manner as our desktop systems or laptop computers, only with much smaller display screens and tiny keyboards.

For a smaller group of users, especially in third-world countries, the smartphone may be the only computer the person owns.

Smartphones are cheaper than computers and more convenient because of their portability. Many people, myself included, now use a smartphone to surf the web more often than they use desktop computers.

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I use a smartphone every day and find that I use the phone’s computer functions more than I use its telephone functions. I use my smartphone to read my email daily, surf the web, read new comments posted to newsletter articles, and even occasionally write and upload newsletter articles with it. I often use it to take pictures and occasionally also to upload those photos to the newsletter’s web site or to a photo sharing web site. I find that I make very few phone calls with my smartphone, but I use its computer functionality every day.

Another trend is closely related: many people are now abandoning their traditional landline telephones and are switching to cell phones as their only telephone. Two in five American households responding to a survey by the National Center for Health Statistics said they had no landline telephone service and used cell phones as their only means of phone communication.

The cost savings can be impressive for those who feel they must have the mobility and the emergency service provided by a cell phone. Why have a second, landline phone from the telephone company that costs $30 a month or more when the cell phone alone will suffice? High quality cell phone service is available from a number of vendors for $20 to $40 a month. Why pay for two phones? (One at home plus a cell phone?) For me and for many others, it makes sense to have only one phone that works everywhere. Then it is only necessary to provide one telephone number to friends, relatives, and business associates. The cell phone also is far more useful than an old-fashioned landline phone that can only be used when at home.

We already have seen a number of genealogy programs become available for smartphones in the past few years. Most of these programs are very limited when compared to today’s desktop and laptop computer genealogy programs. Yet, we all know the history of personal computers: programs that are “limited” today soon develop new features and become powerhouses within a very few years. I suspect the same will be true of smartphones, especially as the price of storage continues to drop rapidly. Indeed, most of the smartphone genealogy apps being released today have much more capability than did the apps of a few years ago.

Actually, the term “storage” is also changing. In the past, “storage” always meant a disk drive. Nowadays, storage often means flash memory, especially in the case of smartphones, or it can be terabytes of storage “in the cloud.” In effect, all computers of today, including smartphones, have far more storage capacity available than did the computers of only a few years ago. The smartphone that I now carry on my belt has 200,000 times the internal storage capacity of the first PC that I purchased! Even better, the storage in the smartphone has no moving parts. In addition, even more storage is available “in the cloud” should I wish to use it (and I do use cloud storage daily).

In fact, we no longer need to store our data inside the device. We often find it easier, and perhaps cheaper, to store our data in big data centers located thousands of miles away, where we can access the data from any computer: from our handheld smartphone, from a laptop or netbook portable computer, or from the desktop computer at home or at the office. The location of computer storage is no longer important when we can access that storage quickly and easily in the cloud. Storage space on today’s smartphones is essentially infinite. Using a connection to the cloud, today’s handheld smartphone can easily access terabytes of information.

Smartphones now handle 10 megabits/second downloads and 5 megabits/second uploads on some networks. At those speeds, the delay in accessing data in the cloud is a very few seconds.

I already store thousands of my word processing documents and spreadsheets online, using Google Drive and Google Docs along with Zoho Docs and a couple of other apps. I also store my genealogy data online on MyHeritage.com as well as a duplicate copy in a private section of Amazon.com’s S3 cloud servers. The technology to do that is here today. In fact, thousands of genealogists are already doing just that today.

The hardware is available now and is improving nearly every month.

The software is lagging behind, as always, but that is historically temporary. Many of the early genealogy programs for handhelds are “read only” but that is changing rapidly. Most of the smartphone apps released in the past few years also offer the ability to not only retrieve data created elsewhere and display it on the tiny screen, but also the ability to add new data and even images from wherever the user is located. In fact, today’s smartphones generally include high-resolution cameras that will create images of census records, old deeds, and many more original records and will even add those images to the user’s primary genealogy database. There no longer is a need to return home to add your latest genealogy findings to your records.

I especially like MyHeritage’s online service as it keeps identical copies of my genealogy database available at all times in my smartphone, tablet computer, laptop, and desktop computers. Best of all, MyHeritage does not mix in my genealogy data with that of others; my database is my own and is kept as my own alone.

Disclaimer: MyHeritage also is the sponsor of this newsletter so I can be accused of bias. In fact, I am sure I am biased. However, I am also sure that if MyHeritage did not sponsor this newsletter, I would still use MyHeritage’s online service as my primary genealogy database. Obviously, other online genealogy databases are also available for anyone with different preferences.

Today, the smartphone can become a person’s only computer, used alone when away from home or the office, then used with a “docking station” when at home or at the office. Of course, most smartphones already have internal cameras, even webcams. With a docking station to accommodate a keyboard, a larger screen, stereo speakers, printers, scanners, and more, today’s home computer may soon become a thing of the past.

Humphrey Chen, Executive Director of new technology development at Verizon Wireless, made a prediction several years ago that is now becoming a fact, not a prediction. Chen stated, “With gigahertz processors, the divide between the smartphone and PC has narrowed. That’s Microsoft’s worst nightmare because there is no Windows or Office revenue, but there’s a big Google Apps and Verizon cloud computing opportunity there.”

Will your next PC be a smartphone? Do you really need a desktop computer for checking email, surfing the web, or doing genealogy research? The smartphones of today will do most everything your present desktop computer can do.

smartphone-docking-station

To be sure, the smartphone will not satisfy everyone’s needs. For instance, my desktop computer has a 27-inch screen which will be hard to duplicate on a handheld smartphone. Or will it? I could use the smartphone’s tiny screen when out and about, then come home and plug the smartphone into a docking station that has a 27-inch screen or even larger. (See the image above for one example.) Keeping all my programs and data in one device makes sense, especially if I can use different screens, keyboards, and other devices whenever I like. That is easy to do with a docking station that accepts keyboards, display screens, printers, and other peripherals.

Yes, I believe that a smartphone will become a desktop replacement within a very few years. In fact, it has become my primary computer today.

Oh, yeah: you can also use a smartphone to make phone calls.

44 Comments

I would love to have a smart phone. However, I cannot afford it. I use a kindle instead. Everywhere has Wi-Fi so I have access to everything except if in a car. My husband keeps a very cheap pay by the month phone in the car. At home, I do have a computer with internet service. I also have a house phone. Reason for house phone, is that by law, if you have a handicapped person living with you, you are required to have a land line. He cannot use the phone, but there is no going around it. If someone wants to pay for a smart phone for me monthly I would love to have one, but I have not figured that part out, I use the text messenger program on facebook for my way of communication on my kindle, and the Silk program to get the internet.

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I live in a rural area. I work for a large insurance company as a nurse/social worker and must travel all over my state. I have to have a smart phone for my job, although they don’t make it requirement. I can take photos of my documents, and email them directly into corporate office without ever using a fax, or scanning a document. I have done the work I perform just on my smart phone, but it is not as secure as PC with a protected encrypted firewall. The documents I handle are very sensitive. Sending secure documents can be done on the smart phone, you just have to use an email base that is encrypted. I can also upload documents in the cloud and have corporate “pick them up”, which is another way of handling them. I did away with my landline a few months ago, and have never missed it. I did worry about the whole 911 locator when doing away with the landline. By contacting my local 911 center, I was able to set up a family “subscription” which lets them locate my home just as easily as if I had a landline, and helps support my local emergency services if I don’t use it. (I think it’s $60 a year for the entire family.) We recently had to try it out during an emergency, and they were at my door in less than 8 minutes. I still like my laptop. It’s great for many of the things I enjoy doing. And I have a tablet, as well as a Kindle. If I were to rate which one is used most often, my smart phone wins hands down. I was a little slow about switching to it, but I wouldn’t go back now, and can see myself using more and more as time goes on.

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There are some of us who wear glasses [both reading and distance glasses, primarily for astigmatism, but also, as I get older, for magnification. I would have a terrible time trying to do my genealogy on a smart phone. I fear I would also have a difficult time trying to enter text with my somewhat arthritic hands, as well. I do have a plain vanilla
cell phone that I carry in my purse because it’s my Life Alert link when I’m not in the house, If I fall or need help it’s set up to call Life Alert when I hold down the number 2. I have enough trouble remembering to keep it charged before I set out…
Pat Heaton

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    —> I would have a terrible time trying to do my genealogy on a smart phone. I fear I would also have a difficult time trying to enter text with my somewhat arthritic hands, as well.

    Take a look at the last image in the article. It shows a smartphone in a docking station, connected to a very large monitor and a full-sized keyboard.

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And when you die. Who’s going to go through your smart phone and save your genealogy and pictures?

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    —> And when you die. Who’s going to go through your smart phone and save your genealogy and pictures?

    The answer is the same whether you are using a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, or a cell phone, or a combination of those things. Your heirs need to do that if you have not done it yourself prior to your death. Luckily, that is easy to do if you provide them with the required passwords before your death or in your will.

    There is no need for anyone to go through the cell phone, using a small screen and a small keyboard. Most cell phones have the capability to copy everything to other computers or to the cloud or wherever you wish.

    For instance, all my pictures get copied to both Amazon Family Vault within a minute or two as soon as I connect to a wi-fi network. My documents get copied to Mega.nz within a minute or two as soon as I connect to a wi-fi network. And so on.

    My heirs can go though my cell phone’s photographs, documents, and other information while sitting at their computers using a 27-inch monitor and a full-sized keyboard. My passwords are attached to my last will and testament.

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A couple of points
1. Cell coverage is NOT universal. We traveled the other day with a 3-year-old child from central to western Kentucky, and there was no coverage, NO COVERAGE between Lexington and Paducah, 240 miles. If we’d had a breakdown we would be in serious trouble. I realize it probably depends on the carrier, but how can one tell that in advance?
2. I use my phone to make and receive phone calls, and take an occasional picture. The screen is simply too small to do much more, and even at its largest, the keyboard is frustratingly small.
3. If I’m connecting my smartphone (assume it’s an Apple which I can not afford) to a docking station (which I can’t afford), I may as well use my desktop instead.

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    1. I agree that cell coverage is not universal when traveling, which is one more good argument for using a phone which switches to nearby wifi wherever available, such as ours from Republic Wireless or the others mentioned more recently by Dick Eastman.
    2. Although I am 80 years old and have pudgy fingers and a lot of arthritic pain in my hands and fingers, I use the SwiftKey keyboard app on my smartphone, which is so predictive that it nearly always provides the word I want after I type the first few keys, so I bat out messages very quickly with very little actual typing. In fact, I wish my computer keyboard was that smart. Before SwiftKey, I used the Big Buttons keyboard app which made the buttons on my smartphone so big I could have typed with my thumb or the tip of my nose if necessary!
    3. Although I am an Apple enthusiast, we use Android smartphones which for the most past are much cheaper than iPhones and are very happy with them. However, I think Dick’s point about how your heirs could access your records does not involve a docking station, because the genealogy records, photos, etc. which we see on our smartphones are stored in the cloud and would be accessed by those heirs to whom you provided passwords, by any electronic device of their choice, including their large screen computers if they so chose.
    When it comes to keeping in touch with family and friends, I often feel that it is senior citizens like myself who can benefit the most from today’s technology, so I try my best to keep up with these rapid advancements, especially since the prices keep coming down.

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    —> I agree that cell coverage is not universal when traveling, which is one more good argument for using a phone which switches to nearby wifi wherever available, such as ours from Republic Wireless or the others mentioned more recently by Dick Eastman.

    Agreed. Cell phone coverage was spotty in rural areas ten years ago. Five years ago, it was much better. Today, it is still better but you will find numerous dead spots as you drive in rural and/or mountainous areas. Five years from now it will be even better than today and five years after that… well, let’s just say that the trend has been improving for years and undoubtedly will continue to improve. One thing about technology is that it rarely stays the same.

    —> I think Dick’s point about how your heirs could access your records does not involve a docking station, because the genealogy records, photos, etc. which we see on our smartphones are stored in the cloud and would be accessed by those heirs to whom you provided passwords, by any electronic device of their choice, including their large screen computers if they so chose.

    Agreed. If YOU plan ahead now, your heirs can do whatever is necessary to your cell phone’s data, pictures, and more while seated at their Macintosh or Windows computers with 27-inch screens, full-sized keyboards, or whatever they wish to use. There is no need to even turn on your cell phone if you store things correctly and securely in the cloud. My cell phone automatically copies all pictures and documents to a safe and secure storage area in the cloud. The information to access that cloud storage area, along with the required user name and password, is attached to my last will and testament.

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After the loss of cell service in the Florida hurricanes of 2003/2004, I will not do away with my landline. Until experience proves that this problem has been corrected, I prefer having the backup of multiple ways to communicate during a natural emergency.

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    In my experience (several blizzards and two hurricanes), the old-fashioned landline phones were amongst the first to fail. Apparently, falling tree limbs interrupt telephone service, electric power, and cable television. When I lost the old-fashioned landline telephones, the cell phones continued to work reliably. The cell towers all have their own power generators that will run each tower for days. Many cell towers (but not all of them) are interconnected with other cell towers and with the cellular companies’ telephone interface by wireless microwave dishes. If telephone lines are destroyed by falling tree limbs, most cell phone towers continue to work as normal.

    The recent hurricane that went up the Florida coast occurred while I was in Massachusetts. I was concerned about my house in Florida so I called my next-door neighbor several times during the hurricane. His cell phone continued to work perfectly during the hurricane. His wired landline phone went out of service early in the hurricane and remained inoperable for two or three days.

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    That’s interesting, Dick. My experience has been the opposite in NH. But we haven’t lived there for a couple of years and things are changing fast in the world of technology.
    We have lots of areas of no cell phone service or wi-fi where we live now. Rural area, lots of mountains.

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    When I lived in Lebanon, NH and later in Nashua, NH, the cell phones were the most reliable service available during blizzards. However, the mountains and valleys around Lebanon, NH had lost of dead spots where cell coverage was unavailable in any weather.

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I am quite content for everyone to parse this according to their own particular needs and resources. Not everyone can negotiate the smartphone world as easily as others; not everyone is comfortable with the idea of toting around their entire online existence in their hip pocket, and indeed they not need to. What I haven’t seen or heard addressed in the Great TechnoDebates 17.0 is security. So if I convert all my files onto my smartphone no matter what means I find helpful to access it, even if encrypted and backed up into 3 separate cloud accounts, and onto a hard drive backup in the safe deposit box, if my phone is separated from me, am I in big trouble?
And if my “contact information” i.e. name, address, phone number, etc. is resident on someone else’s phone, what about that? Not really as appallingly paranoid as I may sound, but it is a legitimate question.

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    Betsy, I’m not sure the point you make here has been responded to yet: “So if I convert all my files onto my smartphone no matter what means I find helpful to access it, even if encrypted and backed up into 3 separate cloud accounts, and onto a hard drive backup in the safe deposit box, if my phone is separated from me, am I in big trouble?” – Allow me respond that “No, you are not in trouble at all.” There is no need to convert your files onto your smartphone. The files need not exist on your smartphone but only appear there. The files exist in the cloud and in whatever physical backups you have set to be automatically created both elsewhere in the cloud, and on physical media in your possession. If you lose your smartphone, you simply “turn off” that access to information, from another device or through the service center supporting your phone. For example, this is the way Google Photo works, if you set it up the way it is intended. Only my most recent photos, taken since my last nightly charge, actually exist on my smartphone. Hundreds of my photos appear to be on my phone, but they are not there. They are in my Google cloud, as well as being backed up automatically to my laptop. This is how it works, when set up properly, for data as well. That is likely why there is now a trend towards eliminating the option for a secondary sd disk on smartphones. It is becoming less and less of a storage device and more as a viewing and control device.

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I do a lot of reading and internet surfing on my laptop every day. I also have a smart phone, but the screen and keyboard are far too small to match my needs. Rather than go through the trouble of docking the smartphone so I can use a larger screen & keyboard (and then undocking every time I leave the house), I’ll stick with my laptop in true recliner commando style. I got a second hand Lenovo laptop at a ham radio flea market last year for $5, it will probably last forever!

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And I’m exactly the opposite, having never owned a cell phone, seeing no need for one, especially when I look at people using them and seeing how small the screens are. The only occasion on which one might be handy is if lost or injured in the mountains, which ironically have no cell phone service from persons I am with. Why would I need a cell phone when I have a laptop at home and work? I rarely use a phone, and from what I see most people rarely use theirs for phone calls. If I am home, a landline is fine. If I am driving, a cell phone can’t be used, and if in a store, restaurant, etc. there is nothing so urgent that it can’t wait until I get home. If at work, I can easily be contacted either by e-mail or Facebook messenger and I will get the message right away, so why get texting on a cell phone? Any computer usages whether at home or work are much easier on a laptop that is with me than on a phone. To each their own, but I see no need for every owning a cell phone.

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We do not have, nor do we want a smart phone. I will never give up my PC with two screens using up to 4 sites as once, and working fast with ease, with easy to read screen and tons of storage. Smart phones may be convenient for going to the library and other mobile uses but will never take the place of a PC or large lap top no matter how much they want to sell, sell, sell. I spend my money on genealogy memberships and not on smart phone cell phone monthly costs. When I travel I buy a burner dumb phone and it takes photos and only costs me about $15 a month for the service. PC is only $30 a month for ultra high speed, telephone costs is $20. So tell me what is better? Unless you are a minimal uses and need all that smart stuff, then the PC will be your best bet. I have been doing genealogy research for nearly 50 years by the way, the hard way, the internet way, and the telephone way. Best of luck on the decision.

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Docking onto a keyboard & big monitor is good, but it’s still the Android operating system. I believe I’d still need a separate laptop/desktop to run all the many Windows programs I use. Some Windows programs have already ported to Android and in the future, many more probably will. And as you point out, the cloud doesn’t care very much about your operating system. I assume there are many like me who still will want or need to use native Windows applications on their own machine. Linux vs Windows is a similar conundrum with the same drawbacks. [Let me tell you about my DOS programs, too 🙂 ]

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In addition to a PC using the Windows 10 OS, I also use a Kindle (for reading), a 7 inch tablet (for surfing the net) and had Windows smart phones for several years. Due to the small size of my previous phone screens I didn’t really use all of the smart phone features until I went Android and got a Moto G4 (4th gen) with a 5.5 inch screen. It makes a world of difference when you can see what’s on the screen!
After the April 27, 2011 tornados when we were without power for 6 days with no way to charge our cell phone, I decided to keep my landline house phone forever. Then last month WOW (my cable/internet/phone provider) disabled my wired landline and changed my phone service to VoIP. So now, in case of a serious long term power failure, I’m SOL either way.

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I have a laptop, a tablet and an older smart phone. The laptop sits on my desk in our ‘home office’, is plugged into a docking station and serves as my desktop. It has an i7chip, 16G ram and 1T of storage and a high speed secure internet connection. Loaded on it are the full blown version of Office, the accounting software for our farm, the full blown Photoshop, a CAD program and the genealogical stuff. I keep the laptop totally separate from the tablet and the old smartphone. I use the Tablet for 95% of my daily routine such as email, facebook, surfing the net, playing a game I like etc and I can move comfortably and wireless around the house. I live in a ‘no cell’ area so I keep the landline and simply put it on ‘call forwarding’ to the cell phone if I go away for the day or any length of time. The screen on the smart phone is too small to be of any real use but handy to have if I travel.

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Doing extended research and writing while hunched over a laptop or tablet has completely messed up my neck and back, and I’m sure I’m not the only one experiencing this. Physical therapists have told me that good posture is crucial, and they’re right. Research on a smartphone? No way. My next computer will be a desktop. I’m willing to try a docking station, but I have tried using workaround apps for MS Word, Ancestry, and other functions and find them awkward, annoying, and not nearly as robust. With the Ancestry app, I might as well be playing a game. Also, storing stuff completely in the cloud goes against the LOCKSS principle. As long as I have local storage, I’m keeping it.

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    Before you give up your laptop for a desktop computer, consider simply adding a free-standing, wheeled easel with angular adjustment. We bought a pair of these on sale at Walgreen’s for $25 each about 7 years ago, assembled them in about 30 minutes, and they are still going strong. Instead of craning my neck over my MacBookPro sitting on my lap, I can sit back in my chair in a normal posture-appropriate condition with the MBP suspended over me at a preferred angle, height, and distance. Much healthier than a fixed desktop surface, and I can push it off to the side at will. I agree that there are many good options to choose from in computing, and everyone is different, but it is also in our interest not to be too quick to rule out untried options, both new and old.

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I’m envisioning cell phones being passed around the Thanksgiving table to share pictures of great grandma when she was a girl. Somehow it just doesn’t work for me. Give me a paper picture that I can hand to my cousin with a comment. And we can line up multiple photos for comparison. That shoe box of old photos is more than just photos. It’s family and friends talking to each other rather than at each other.

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I have to add a comment here: I see comments from several people talking about how difficult it is to use the small screens and small keyboards of a cell phone. Indeed, that is absolutely true but please do not think that you are limited to only using those screens and keyboards.

I see my smartphone as an extension to my desktop and laptop and tablet computers. They are all useful for whatever situation I happen to be in at the moment. If walking down the street, the small screen and keyboard on the phone are inconvenient but still useable to let me access my email, messages, data, and pictures as needed. When at home, I access the same email, messages, data, and pictures from a 27-inch or larger screen and full-sized keyboard. When in a library or a hotel room, I use the mid-sized screen and keyboard of a laptop or a tablet computer.

Hardware is NOT the important thing. INFORMATION is the important thing. (I include photographs under that heading of “information.”) Access to information whenever and wherever you need it is the important thing. Screen size and keyboard size and convenience is simply a matter of where you are at the moment. In my case, almost all my information is available almost wherever I might be at the moment.

When in a convention center or when walking down the street, I use the tiny smartphone’s screen and keyboard simply because it is not convenient to carry my 27-inch monitor with me. At home, I use the big screens or even the 63-inch big screen television set in the living room and a full-sized keyboard. In all cases, I am accessing the exact same email, messages, data, and pictures.

With today’s technology, all that is easy to do.

I love displaying photographs on the 63-inch high definition television set! Why limit ourselves to “tiny” 27-inch computer monitors?

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What’s a PC?

Seriously though, I agree with you. Like it or not, smartphones and devices are the future. How many millennials do you know who are buying desktop PCs, or even replacing their college laptop once they graduate? Most of them will do everything on their phone or tablet, and won’t spend the money on a laptop, which are quickly becoming specialized for content creators and aimed at the very high end of the market. If the genealogy industry is serious about attracting younger people, we need to be developing mobile apps that make research easier and better than on a desktop. The problem with most genealogy apps is that they are the poor second cousins to the web site that they work with. The company designed for the web first, and then thought about how to bring a subset of the website’s functionality to mobile to broaden their reach.

As you point out, today’s smartphones are practically supercomputers when compared to the desktops of 10 or 15 years ago. Apps designed to be “mobile first” can leverage this compute power to make research quicker and easier, and be more capable than a web browser.

Of course, I’m crazy enough to believe that historic newspaper research is much easier using a mobile app on a phone than on a laptop or desktop PC with multiple monitors! An app can make research data location-aware, use smart algorithms to help you find what you are looking for, and even zoom in automatically to make it easier to see and evaluate potential search matches.

Thanks for a great article!

Bill Nelson

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Dick: Have you published a currently useful article disclosing and comparing genealogy (personal storage) software for smartphones that replaces PAF, RootsMagic, Legacy, Ancestral Quest etc?

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The main reason that I keep my landline is for 911 service. I live in a rural area. I have already had an experience calling 911 from a cell phone to report an emergency on a rural road in the same county where I live–and having the dispatcher unable to locate me–because the signal bounced off the wrong tower. I investigated this situation after my 911 call was dropped and was told that this was what had happened–and that it happens frequently. I will keep the landline until I am absolutely certain that I would be able to call 911 with my cell phone with no problem.

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We, too, are in a rural area. There are towers all around us and we have signal – IN OUR GARDEN! There is no signal in our house: we live in a log house, the logs are old treated pine and they do not conduct cell signal well. We will always have a land line – BUT . . . we are looking at changing to the wireless phone which will allow us to keep our “home” phone with us wherever we are; not sure how this is going to work with our logs, but we’ll see. Also don’t know what this will do for 911 calls, but it would seem they would find us based on where the signal is coming from. We’ll see.

We have one smart phone – my husband’s – because I use mine almost never and I need one I can actually turn off. We upgraded my phone several years ago and I came home, turned if off, and left it in my coat pocket as I usually do. Several days later, when I went to use it, the phone was dead. We tried a new battery and another phone before we finally got a technician who knew the problem: ANY of the new phones still search for signal even after they are turned off – not a good feature in our log house; the only way to stop that was to remove the battery – and just how long was the phone going to last doing that every time I used it? So I told them they could have the phone back and I’d stay with my old, outdated, flip phone till it died. And that is what I still use.

And though we are probably more tech literate than most people, we still use the smart phone as a phone 95% of the time. We use the data to find locations when we are away from the house, but most of the time our data is turned off.

But those people who reported the issue of no cell service in western KY are right – and slipping down into our corner of western TN you will find the same issue: it depends on your carrier. ATT’s service map showed we were not covered – at least Verizon covers our barns and our garden!

And the person who had the issue with the 911 call bouncing off of another tower is exactly right: we are within range of two close towers and it depends on where we are on our farm as to which one will place the call – Kentucky or Tennessee; talk about room for error on that one!

I understand storing data “in the cloud,” but I am old and skeptical – especially after Ancestry’s huge failure (from which at least one account that I deal with never recovered). At least on my home storage, if I don’t have it backed up when the failure occurs, I know who to blame. Am I a “control freak?” Maybe. Or maybe just extra cautious.

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When I lived in a “blind spot” which was surrounded by otherwise normal Sprint cellular service that somehow omitted the interior of my residence, I investigated a product like this one that uses an outside antenna to receive and send the cellular signal inside via coax cable and then through an interior booster:
http://tinyurl.com/j4otto6
and then learned that Sprint and other cell providers often have devices like these in their back room which they will provide to you without cost during the term of a cell phone contract if they are convinced there is a blind spot in their service area. There are discussion groups online which provide more detail on exactly whom you have to contact at each cell carrier to apply for the device, but it happened I moved from that location before I had a chance to try it out. Perhaps Dick Eastman has more specific detail.
Regards, Nate

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    Nate,
    From what I’ve read about them they work better when you have no service whatsoever rather than spotty service. The reason is the spotty service causes the phone to switch over to the provider’s regular service when it pops up, then you lose things when it disappears again. It’s kind of an all-or-nothing affair, or at least it was two or three years ago when I had to research the matter.

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I finally broke down and got a smart phone, an iPhone 5S. I need it because people in the country in which I live text all the time. Although I’ll probably always hate texting, the smart phone does make it easier to text than the old Nokia 1100 phone I was using.
The camera isn’t impressive so I continue to clip my excellent little Nokia to my belt loop with a carabiner. Maps of any kind are frustrating and nearly useless. Paper maps show greater detail in context so we carry those in the car.
It’s nice to be able to look up numbers and addresses and make calls on the road. Being able to call the US with Skype on my cell phone when I’m traveling is quite wonderful. The camera on the phone is much better than on my laptop when I use Skype.
I rarely give out my cell number as I don’t want to be interrupted while I’m out and about so I give out my land line number instead.
I can check my e-mail while I’m out and about but really am better off not bothering to do that. I waste more time than ever surfing the internet, but it’s hard to read or do much of anything on that tiny screen. Were I to get a larger phone it wouldn’t fit in my pocket so I’d be losing it all the time.
When I need to read or write anything beyond a short text/e-mail I sit at my desk with my laptop. I focus better and my posture’s better, lowering chance of repetitive injury.
In short, maybe a smart phone can do lots of computerized activities. But it doesn’t do them very well. And I’m kind of sick of the sight of it, to be honest. I’d just as soon not be so tied into the cyber/telephonic world all the time. It’s wearying.
I’m not really all that thrilled with this thing. I’ll definitely go for a much cheaper Android next time. The texting really is what’s driving this bus. I need something easier to text on than my old Nokia.
When I travel I use my Asus netbook. Now, that’s something I REALLY like. Light, easy to carry, great battery life and–unlike a smart phone–a full, usable keyboard. I can use Skype on it. And did I mention the full keyboard?
The next laptop I get may be a Lenovo Yoga, a sort of cross between my laptop and a netbook and a tablet–although I have a Kindle Fire that I never use because I hate reading on a screen so the tablet feature means less to me. Love netbooks, though.

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Dick, you made many good points on smartphones. One reason to keep a landline is that 911 calls can direct emergency responders directly to your home, even if you are unable to give a perfect address verbally. A smartphone will never replace my computer. First of all, smartphones and tables are fine for consuming content…but they are awful for creating content. I want my big screen, keyboard and full-fledged programs. Secondly, I only use financial programs like Quicken on my desktop. I don’t want that kind of data on a phone, tablet, or even a laptop that I carry around and could possibly lose.

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    —> One reason to keep a landline is that 911 calls can direct emergency responders directly to your home, even if you are unable to give a perfect address verbally.

    Over the past 5 or 6 years I have had reasons to call 911 four times. Three times were for accidents on the highway when I was one of the first to arrive at the scene. The fourth time was when I was at home (without a landline phone) and I needed an ambulance. (I had an emergency appendectomy later that evening.) In all cases, the 911 dispatcher knew exactly where I was before I told him or her. When I called from home, the dispatcher asked, “Are you at…?” and read my home address to me before I mentioned it to her.

    The United States Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Enhanced 911 (E911) program requires that all cell phones transmit their phone number and location when dialing 911.

    That was not true before the FCC mandated the changes in 2005. However, it is true of today’s cell phone. Unfortunately, out-of-date information about the pre-2005 cell phones keeps floating around.

    All cell phones sold in the U.S. include GPS these days and the exact location of the caller is displayed on the 911 dispatcher’s console during the first few seconds of the call. Ask any 911 dispatcher about it. You can read more about how this technology works at http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/gps-phone.htm (It is a lengthy article.

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    Dick,
    Re the GPS: Does that work even if you have all location and GPS-related stuff turned off on your phone?

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    —> Re the GPS: Does that work even if you have all location and GPS-related stuff turned off on your phone?

    I am not intimately familiar with all the details of the inner workings cell phones. However, I do know the FCC regulations stated that, by the end of 2005, all cell phones MUST send the GPS coordinates (longitude and latitude) immediately when dialling 911. I assume that includes when the GPS is turned off but that is an assumption on my part.

    The software at the 911 dispatch center then does a look up of those coordinates to find the closest street address. Then the 911 dispatcher sees both the GPS coordinates and the street address displayed on his or her console.

    (A few years ago, I spent three days working in a very large 911 dispatch center and learned a lot about it at the time. That 911 center used my employer’s SQL database software and I was sent by my employer to fix some software problems the 911 center was experiencing.)

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I have one foot in both worlds.

I maintain a landline, and I’ve had reason several times over the past few years to be glad of that — most recently (last month) when we had a 36-hour power outage. Last year I subscribed to internet cable in addition to my DSL line when someone cut through the AT&T cable entering our rural county.

It can be challenging staying connected in the boondocks no matter which protocol you use.

Before I moved to our current home, I had a flip phone that worked only at the foot of our driveway or when traveling.

Last year I bought my first smartphone, an LG G4 (love it), for a trip to Ireland, primarily for the camera. In Dublin I bought an unlimited-data SIM card for €20 for the month. I got an Irish phone number on Skype for $3.99. Cool! And I was able to use my phone for hotel and bus reservations as well as for confirmations.

I had taken my laptop along with me too, but my gosh it added weight and bulk with its power cables and such. So this year I’m going to try traveling with only the phone and my Kindle Paperwhite. (I understand that if I send items to my Kindle email it will convert PDFs, Docs, jpegs and some other file formats to scalable versions that I’m hoping will be useful for reference.) The Paperwhite’s battery lasts for days.

My only worry is about accessing GEDmatch and other databases online where I’ll need to do an exasperating amount of scrolling!

I now use my smartphone for all my morning browsing over coffee. The screen is crystal clear and easy to read on. Indeed, I’m tapping out this message.

But I’m keeping my landline. 🙂

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For those of us that have arthritic hands there is a handy little tool that make it much easier to type. Amazon has a Capacitance Touch Pen that is easy to hold for only about $4

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I’ve had a smart phone (iPhone 5S or SE) for about six months now. I have come to despise it, but will probably keep something like it once this contract runs out because I live in a country in which everyone texts *all* the time. I loathe texting, but it’s marginally easier on the smart phone than it was on the regular cell phone I gave to my husband.

I am exhausted from all the learning curves required by rapidly changing technology, sick to death of it to be honest. Most of the “improvements” are things I neither want nor need. Reading on a phone is difficult and annoying and really, nothing in my life can’t keep until I can get to my laptop.

The big reason we got cell phones was to keep in touch with one another during the day or when we are out doing errands. That remains the most useful thing we do with our phones. That was worth ten bucks a month PAYG, but the price I’m paying now isn’t. We use Skype on our laptops to keep in touch with friends and family in the US.

Oddly, (for someone doing all this whining) the d*mned thing is pretty addictive, to the point where I’m probably just going to turn it off and set two or three times a day to check for messages/phone calls. I found myself researching something on Wikipedia last night at a friend’s house. Ugh.

It would be handy to use it as a scanner (Dick has recommended several software options), but honestly, I’m just worn out from all this technology. It’s much easier to get stuff scanned by our computer support person the next time I’m in town.

The bloom is seriously off the rose here with smart phones. I may just decide to slink back to texting on a flip phone when this contract runs out. The last phone I had was able to get onto the internet somehow, but I never bothered to learn how it worked. Nothing has changed in my life that warrants hassling with yet another piece of hardware.

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