Is your phone smart enough?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

There are some people devoted to their smartphones, using them to check e-mail, look things up on the web, keep track of their appointments and track social networking sites.

The church I attend sometimes has a message in the bulletin discouraging people from texting, but I have actually used my smartphone in Sunday School class to look up some piece of information we were discussing (we have some great discussions).

Some commenters have called this the wave of the future and noted that the excitement in the tech world in the past year has been less about desktop computers and programs and operating systems and more about smartphones and apps and operating systems.

I don't think desktops and notebooks are going away any time soon, and my desktop still provides my primary computing experience. But desktops and laptops seem to be at a plateau right now. They aren't making great strides forward in the way that other forms of technology -- smartphones, tablets, devices which capture web video for viewing on your TV -- are doing.

As Verizon and AT&T improve their data speeds in Shelbyville over the next few months, and if Verizon, as rumored, gets to offer a version of the iPhone after the first of the year, smartphone usage here in Bedford County is likely to increase.

Still, there are many people who just want their phone to be a phone, or perhaps to use it for simple text messaging.

Windows Phone 7

Microsoft introduced Windows Phone 7 last week (its previous phone operating system was known as Windows Mobile). Some tech commenters have praised it, even while opining that it may be arriving too late to compete with the Android, iPhone and Blackberry operating systems which now dominate the market.

Microsoft's ads seem to be reaching out to the people who aren't yet smartphone users. They depict people who are so lost in their smartphones that they are comically oblivious to the world around them -- for example, a bride texting as her father walks her down the aisle. The advertising claim is that the Windows Phone operating system allows you to do smartphone-style tasks quickly, "designed to get you in and out and back to life," quoting the ad.

That's a clever approach -- but, as some of the panelists on Leo Laporte's "This Week In Tech" podcast noted over the weekend, Windows Phone models are priced just as high as the other smartphone operating systems. The casual user who might be intrigued by Microsoft's advertising message may not be ready to pay quite that much for a phone in this economy, especially when they can get a non-smartphone (the industry term is "feature phone") for free with a two-year contract extension.

It will be interesting to see how the Windows Phone devices sell when they hit the market next month.

Of course, it's quite possible to be too devoted to your smartphone, like the people depicted in the Windows Phone 7 advertising. My colleague David Melson posted an item on his blog about an encounter with a texting bicyclist who nearly swerved into his path.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is