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.
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.
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.
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.