Posted by: bkivey | 27 November 2012

Into the 21st Century

A few days ago I bought my first smart phone. I’ll wait while the snickering subsides.

OK. The vendor doesn’t call it a ‘phone’, preferring the much more descriptive ‘tablet’, and I can’t argue. The device bears about as much resemblance to a standard telephone as a horse-and-buggy has to a modern car. They’ll both perform the basic function, but the modern iteration is oh-so much more capable.

I got my first personal cell phone in 2008. Yes, I know that they’ve been widely available since the mid-90’s, but if I’d needed a phone for work (and prior to that a pager), the company supplied it. It didn’t bother me in the least not to have a phone on me all the time, although I was pretty sure that in any given crowd I’d be only one phoneless. This was probably due in large part because I’d gone through childhood and a good chunk of adulthood in a time when if you called someone, you knew where they were: at home, or at work. They couldn’t be anywhere else. Likewise, if you can’t be reached when you’re away from a phone, life is somewhat simpler. There’s no making plans and then having those plans change five times in ten minutes. People tend to be more observant of the social graces when they can’t succumb to every whim.

I had a job in 2008 that required 24/7 availability, so I bought a cell phone. But I bought the cheapest, least capable one I could find. Make and receive calls. The phone did have a camera, although more as an afterthought, because you couldn’t offload the images. So the basic flip phone worked for several years. Then texting took off, and navigation aids became standard.

It was really texting that prompted the upgrade, although navigation was a close second. In the last couple of years colleagues and clients have come to expect the people they work with to have a texting capability. I resisted this for a while, because if I wanted to share information, I could call. Or they could call me. But I found that if the recipient needs information they can access later, voice doesn’t really cut it. Not everyone carries paper and pen around (or in my case, a PDA), so that’s a little inconvenient. So to do business, I had to text.

Having access to navigation has become more of an issue the last couple of years, mostly to get to job sites. My usual method has been to look up the location in the office, and then write the directions down, what I call PPS (Post-It Positioning System). If I get lost, there’s a Thomas Guide in the car. The major drawback was that if I needed to go somewhere I hadn’t looked up, I was in trouble. The Thomas Guide can help with that, but I’m old enough to need cheaters to read it, and if there didn’t happen to be a pair in the vehicle, I was screwed.

But with increased capability comes increased price, and I wasn’t a fan of a monthly phone bill that could rival a car payment. This was the last big hurdle. I didn’t mind paying several hundred dollars for the machine; it was the $1500 annual phone bill I that gave me pause. On the other hand, I was at the point where not having a smart phone was affecting business, so really no choice there. I don’t buy things unless I absolutely need them, and that’s where the phone decision was.

So a couple of days ago I walked into the phone store with a flip phone and walked out with a state-of-the-art Samsung Galaxy S3 handheld computer, probably the first time in my life I’ve bought tech that hadn’t yet been superseded. I’d done my homework, and found that this device was probably the best all-rounder. When the dust had settled on the sales floor, I was able to get everything I wanted, and a plan I could live with, for a very reasonable price.

As for the tablet, I can’t really speak to how well it compares to other devices because I don’t have that experience, and there are gigabytes of information from people who do that kind of thing for a living. I’ve had people tell me that the learning curve for these devices can be steep, but that hasn’t been my experience. I made sure that I could do calling, texting, and navigation before I left the store, and the user interface is very transparent and mostly self-explanatory. I haven’t had to use the print or online instructions yet. Of course, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this machine can do.

My goal is to have a seamless integrated computing environment in the office and in the field, and this is a big step in that direction. My primary field computer has been a PDA, and it’s done what I needed, especially after I developed several work-specific apps running under Excel. There are limitations, not least of which is the limited memory, and I can’t access the office computer from the field, or use the Internet. With its hard shell case, the PDA has been a tough little bugger, and even with a case, I have concerns about the Samsung’s durability. Well, that’s what insurance is for.

I’m looking forward to exploring the device and customizing it. Even using it in bare-bones mode has increased my  productivity. I am a little scared of it, though. Not because I think I’ll screw it up, but because it’s going to take a while to figure it out and set it up. That’s going to be a bona fide project for the winter nights ahead, that is , if I can avoid downloading Angry Birds.

Word Watch

Temployment – This word comes from a staffing company website. Clearly a portmanteau of  ‘temporary employment’, this neologism is on the line between OK and too cute for words. It does seem a case of using one word where two will do.

Phablet – Oh, hell no. From a tech review site, this is an obvious attempt to coin a word to describe the new generation of super-phones. Because they’re so phantastically phabulous. I’m going to go with the MSRN (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Name), and just call them tablets. Or stick with ‘phone’, although that’s like calling the Taj Mahal a ‘shelter’.


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