Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Tale of Two Phones

With the introduction of the iPhone, the media has been engrossed all week with the possibilities of phones as a new platform.

However, there remain very real questions in the United States surrounding the market and adoption rates for phones with increased computing and service capabilities. Case in point, on the heels of one of the most important technology announcements in the last year, a NY Times article ironically explored the robust computing capabilities of decidedly low-tech cell phones.

There are roughly two polarities here:

  • Phone as integrated, all-in-one personal technology (i.e. iPhone, smartPhones, full-featured PDA's)

  • Phone as, well, phone with on-demand value-added software (See NY Times Article above)

For the cultural sector this opposition raises even greater questions as to how to respond to the presumed rising tide of cell phone technology reliance. A recent Musematic article analyzed the impact of iPhones on Museums. Blogger Nik Honeysett sees the device as a strong step forward for all technically-inclined individuals. The utilization of the technology not-withstanding, it is my contention that it is the platform itself that is the challenge. I posted the following caution to his article:

"The question will be whether practicioners in the Museum world have any interest or stake in platform dependency. This type of device looks great for the integrated apps. (iTunes, the SMS service and Video) but I have a tough time believing that Safari will be full-featured and able to handle Ajax, Mash-ups or data-driven flash programming... Plus, think of the stretched IT resources available for any given development project. Can you imagine adding another layer of usability for touch screens and 3:5 aspect ratio? Resources are too tight to work with this platform..."

Clearly, the open question is what other options exist. Are Museums better situated to create integrated app.'s or websites that are WAP and cell-phone browser usable? For a sector of society that is a perpetually late adopter of technologies the coming years will be essential. The Brooklyn Museum has already reached out to explore cell phones as a medium for audio guides but that is a far cry from the applications offered for ordinary cell phones, PDA's or the newly corinated iPhone.

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