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Computer Care: Smartphones keep getting smarter and better

POSTED: September 22, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Although mobile phones have been around for a while, smart phone technology has advanced at a rate much faster than that of the PC.

By the end of 2011, there were 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide. That’s 87 percent of the Earth’s population. Of those, approximately 40 percent are smartphones.

Today’s mobile phones are not only phones that are mobile; they are computers as well as personal assistants. The reason they have become so popular is due to the device’s extensive capabilities.

Along with 2.4 billion smartphone users, I use it to send emails and texts, video chat, browse the Web and shop, check airline schedules, listen to Internet radio and watch videos, check bank balances and pay bills, keep a daily agenda, take photos and videos, set an alarm, navigate in the car, check the weather and, of course, make phone calls.

Applications for the phone have become as ubiquitous as the device itself. Most are free or cost less than $4. Each of us have apps we can’t live without. The ones I use constantly are my GPS, the dictionary app, my flashlight and most recently, my virtual assistants.

I have Jeannie, Sam and Robin installed on my phone. Some are better with certain tasks than the others, so I haven’t yet decided which one to keep.

I began with Sam, actually Assistant, from speaktoit.com after I Googled Siri-like apps. I read the reviews and loaded a few; most got deleted almost instantly. Sam adds things to my calendar and sets alarms. Although she has the answers to most of my queries, for some she just sends me to the Web.

While driving, I don’t want to have to look at the screen, but just hear the responses.

Sam also crashes every now and then, but I like her. There are various avatars to choose along with different voices, both male and female. She speaks to me by name with a British accent.

Pannous.net is where I got Jeannie from. She also does the daily tasks I need, as does Robin, from evi.com. When I asked Robin to call home though, she said it was not in my contact list. All will make calls, send texts and read a weather forecast.

In my car I use Vlingo (vlingo.com) because of the interface that appears when I place the phone in its dock. I press only a few buttons or have it respond to my voice.

It’s great to be able to say, “Send text to Tess: home late tonight,” or “Navigate to 123 Old Dirt Road, Podunk, Ga.”

With a virtual assistant, you can ask your phone not just directions, but how many cups in a gallon, who was the 23rd president or how many moons does Jupiter have?

It all comes down to personal preference. Do you like the sound and is the interface easy?

Most have free versions; many are still in beta (polished product not out yet), so some may function better than others on your phone. Try a few out before you decide.

With almost 500 million smartphones shipped in 2011 and another 145 million in the first quarter of this year, they are only becoming more prevalent.

Apple is breaking its own records with sales of the new iPhone 5 expected to be over 46 million by the end of the year. Two million were ordered in just a couple of days prior to the Friday release.

Personally, I’m an Android guy, along with over half of all smartphone users. I like the interface and the larger size of my Droid. It is highly customizable. I have multiple home screens, each with a different purpose. One has my agenda, another with icons of those I call often, one with navigation features, another with my assistants, plus one with random apps.

Mobile phones are heading in a direction that will be of assistance to us all. Just as bar codes, the RFID chip, Bluetooth and QR codes first helped us, there is now a new technology called Near Field Communication.

With NFC we will be able to use our phones as credit cards. Some phones now let you scan them to make a purchase as in Starbucks. With NFC you only need to be near the scanner, not under it. The technology is built into Android phones already. For a full explanation, visit nearfieldcommunication.org.

It keeps getting easier.

But now that your phone is also your computer, it shares similar characteristics. It will slow down and may get infected.

If you’re a smartphone user, download a (free) utility that clears the phone’s cache and refreshes the RAM. Just as with your PC, your phone can get sluggish with lots of apps installed. See your phone’s store for downloads.

It’s also a good idea to install an antivirus app for your smartphone. As they become more popular, those who write malware and viruses will certainly soon target this up and coming technology.

The apps may be free, but there is still a price to pay.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and on gainesvilletimes.com.


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