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Thursday, 29 November 2012

I love it when a plan comes together!

so said Col 'Hannibal' Smith of the A team.  Or, as its described in tech circles: Convergence.

Convergence is all about the tendency of different  tech systems to come together in one device because they share some common characteristic. The smart phone is an excellent example of this.  Which because they all rely on digital data brings together telephony, email, still photography, video photography, music player and game players in a single device.

On the face of it, this seems a really good idea.  Just think of it:  all that stuff you can do on one piece of tech.    No more multiple cameras, music players, wrestling with all those cables, accumulated old junk or struggling to find that elusive adapter which only fits that old I POD.  All these things replaced by one small device which you can carry around in your pocket.  Talk about Star Trek tech: buckets more computing power in your hand, than that which put man on the moon. Its amazing!

Or is it?

By giving up all that other 'old'  tech and relying on that latest smart phone suggests that everything it can do, approaches the quality of what each piece of technology can do separately. But does it: does it really?

Was Skyfall filmed using an I phone 5.  Do you think the new Spidey was made using a Samsung Galaxy?  No I think not.  Judging by most of the content on You tube, your average phone video camera just about manages to film dogs saying 'sausages' or your least favourite Aunt doing the splits while getting out of that boat.  Funny it may be, but James Cameron and Avatar it is not.  At its very best, it might get you £250 on Who's Been Framed!, but it won't get you that Oscar.

David Bailey

What about the digital camera then?  Ha! that's just as risible.  I don't see world renowned photographers  David Bailey, Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz using the Motorola RAZR or the HTC One:  though David Bailey was quite a fan of pocket cameras for those candid party pictures.  Despite increases in resolution (number of mega-pixels) phone camera's still seem to be only good for pictures of yourself with mates at arms length.  Anything else becomes tiny dots in the far distance.  And if the new ads are anything to go by, the trend is for quality, faster DLSR's (digital single lens reflex) cameras with changeable lenses that offer more control and flexibility to the user:  Think of the Nikon 1 or the Canon EOS 600.
DSLR Canon 600D

Yes using them for email can be good but the emphasis is on the word 'can'.  Nearly everyone I know, including myself use 'smart' phones for reading emails.  But few use phones for actually writing emails.  They prefer to use larger screen devices like tablets, or proper keyboards for faster typing, than pecking around a tiny screen with two thumbs at the very best.

Phones as a music player would appear to offer a distinct advantage.  Speech, music its all sound isn't it?  True, but think of the storage.  My music collection, which is not that large is about 35Gb.  Not many phones have that amount of storage.  Anything less would require me to add, delete or edit the content of music on a continuous basis.  With a music player with a capacity of 140 Gb, I'm not going to have to worry about storage capacity for music for years, if ever.  Just load and play.

Call of Duty
OK, forget about cameras, emails and music.  What about game play?  Doesn't that bring home the Kevin Bacon for smart phones?  Yeah right!  Smart phones might be all right for Tetris or for that lunatic plumber Super Mario, but do you really want to play Halo 4, Bioshock 2, Medal of Honour or Farcry 3 on a tiny screen and loose all that amazing explode off the screen, graphic detail.  No, I didn't think so.  'Yes but', you may say, you can play while waiting for the bus or when you're out an' about.  But why put up with tiny screen and tiny experience just because you're out.  What's wrong with waiting until you're back home.  If you're really stuck for something to do: READ a book.

And mentioning books, what's wrong with with using phones as an e-reader?  Plenty, when compared to dedicated e-readers like Kindle.  For a start with Kindle, you get a bigger screens to save all that scrolling.  Then you save thousands of books without worry and you get clearer and easier print to read together with chance to change the font size.  And perhaps most importantly, the battery life is for days if not weeks when compared to only hours for a phone.

What about apps.  OK you got me.  But really how many of these apps are any good? Maps possibly, but the only app I've wanted is the whip sound from the Big Bang but only so I can annoy my friends in the same way as Sheldon Cooper.  Of limited usefulness and entertaining in their own way they're all so much froth.  You can live without them and when you can use a laptop of a tablet, the importance of those apps falls even further away.

Become a Master?
Even as a phone, smart phones aren't that good.  OK but not great.  Coverage isn't always 100% and signal strength comes and goes.  At Crinan, its always entertaining watching people wander up and down the canal side, arms stretched out,  straining to hold their phone up to the sun like an ancient Druid performing a bizarre ritual.  All in a vain attempt to catch a fragment of signal strength while a phone mast is positioned barely 600 yards away around a headland, and as if that extra 2 feet closer to sun is going to make the difference.  Of course what is needed for true coverage, is a SAT Phone.  100% coverage, all around the world.  A bit expensive maybe, especially when all you've got to say is 'WHAAAAATS UUUUUPPPP!'

So it appears, smart phones aren't that smart after all:  they can do some stuff OK, but they're a bit of a jack of all trades and master of none.  What you have to decide, is whether you want to be like a smart phone. Spread yourself about and do lots of things moderately OK, or become a master:  pick a few things to do really really well.

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