What may have seemed like science fiction just a few decades ago is now the norm – we can carry around portable communication devices that can take pictures, connect us with loved ones, organize our lives and, if technology permits, pay for goods and services. No matter what provider or device you use, as a smartphone user you’re part of the growing consumer population that relies on its smartphones to get through the day…and then some.
It Keeps Getting Easier… Or Does It?
Manufacturers are making our lives easier in many ways. The yearly Consumer Electronics Showcase (CES) used to be the domain of Panasonic, Sony and other traditional electronics companies as they unveiled the latest innovations in home theater and audio technology. This year’s CES 2011was overwhelmingly dominated by smartphone and tablet innovations, such as 4G high-speed connectivity and the newest devices. It’s like a dawning of a new age – and these companies are responding to the overwhelming consumer demand for more features and higher data speeds.
And when it comes to higher speeds, not all service providers are created equally. As 4G becomes the norm, providers are scrambling to deliver the highest speeds at the new rates, which can sometimes result in confusing terms for buyers. Most of the major smartphone marketers claim they offer 4G, but most are actually using different standards for what constitutes 4G. For example, T-Mobile uses a standard called HPSA+ while Verizon Wireless uses a technology called Long-Term Evolution.
All in all, the four major carriers are using three different standards and calling them all 4G. But for smartphone users, the differences can be staggering. 4G download speeds can range from as slow as 3 mbps to as fast as 42 mbps. But in the minds of consumers, all 4G networks are created equal. According to a recent Nielsen survey, consumers expect mobile devices to transfer data at rates of 100 mbps, which isn’t provided by any carrier worldwide.
What’s At Stake
There’s a lot at stake for smartphone service providers, and consumers are expecting them to get the terms and speeds sorted out. Standards and acronyms aside, the vast majority of smartphone users want a fast plan because of the sheer amount of information that can be accessed through a phone.
Retailers of all sizes are being urged to have a mobile presence – or else! Having a website that can be visited on a mobile browser can make the difference between getting foot traffic or being ignored. Mobile e-commerce took off in 2010 and is likely to continue to rise in 2011. Although many retailers have developed apps to be used on mobile phones, a full mobile-capable website is necessary for most, if not all, companies.
In addition to browsing for their favorite buys, smartphone users are also taking lots of pictures here, there and everywhere. If you’ve ever pulled out your iPhone to capture your kid at the park or used your Android phone to take a quick snapshot of the sunset, you know that smartphones make it easy to always have a camera at hand. In fact, the iPhone ranks in the top five devices used on the popular photo sharing site Flickr.com – outranking even standard point-and-shoot cameras. There are hundreds of photo apps that make it possible to edit, enhance and digitally age your photos, all from the palm of your hand.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
And as if smartphones weren’t useful enough already, NFC technology may make it possible to use your phone to learn more about and purchase items in your local store. “Near field communication” chips in newer smartphones can read codes on retail items. The code will open up a browser window on your phone to tell you more information about the item to help you make a purchase. T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless all plan to integrate NFC technology into new phones and are working with retailers to get NFC codes placed in stores.
If all goes according to plan, the same technology could be used to connect your debit card to your phone – making it possible to buy items by simply swiping your phone in front of a device on the register. Already, shoppers’ heads are spinning with the apps and tools that allow them to comparison shop, receive discounts and coupons and be the first to know about good deals, among other things.
With new smartphone technology advances, the future is here – and we love it!