Smartphones dial up more than just numbers

Is that the future in his pocket, or is Rupert Goodwins just very pleased to have a new toy?

It's not easy, being a Technology Editor. Oh, I know it looks like one long jaunt through a galaxy of fantastic inventions, exciting developments and really, really cool toys, but have you any idea how many Power Point presentations I've sat through? I'm sure that when I die, they'll find 1024x768 burn marks on my retinas. Likewise the press releases -- oh, Lord, the press releases. Architecting a customer-facing proactive paradigm, going forwards. We are here to save you from that, and we do it willingly. And why? Because of the toys, of course.

Take the launch of the Microsoft Windows Powered Smartphones yesterday. I went to Sendo's announcement: I'd been forewarned that there wasn't going to be any product to take away, so I was there for the Power Point (30 slides), the press release (40 acronyms in the 'core features' list alone), the chance to ask a few questions and to have enough to write about. But then a miracle: someone didn't turn up, there was one spare phone and, just as I was leaving, a little bird tipped me the wink and handed me the box.

"Don't forget it's beta! There are bits that won't work!" they shouted after me as I fled joyfully down the road. Of course! What did I care? It was small, glittery, brightly lit and brightly coloured, and it made fabulous chirping noises. Of course, it made me care later as I found out that the "bits that won't work" seemed to include anything involved in making or receiving calls. I never had a blue screen of death, but I had the mad scrolling snowstorm of doom, the glacial slowness of deep coma and the incomprehensible graphics of madness.

However, as I played with it -- eventually cajoling it into some semblence of correct behaviour -- it wasn't the headline stuff that grabbed my attention. Is it nice to be able to shoot over-muscled aliens on the tube? To have that uniquely enjoyable Outlook experience wherever you go? Well, perhaps... but I've been doing that sort of thing for at least five years. The real excitement comes from such unpromising places as OTA Sync and Bluetooth handover, and they will change your life.

Let's take OTA -- Over The Air -- Sync. This is the dull old business of your mobile phone making sure it's got the most up-to-date information about whatever it is you care about. Normally, you get that by synchronising it with your PC first thing in the morning or when you get to the office, but with GPRS -- the always-on high bandwidth mobile data network -- you can set your smartphone up to keep in sync automatically, all the time. That's great for bread-and-butter business stuff like phonebooks, calendars, stock levels, prices and so on, but hook it up to the Web and you can have everything that might matter to your day-to-day life percolating into your pocket. Live train times, traffic conditions, friends' plans for the evening, shopping lists -- if you could know anything and remember it forever, you wouldn't need this sort of technology, but for the rest of us, it's the beginning of something splendid.

And then there's Bluetooth handover. If you're in the office or at home and you've got a Bluetooth connection to your fixed phone lines, then Sendo's phone will become a cordless handset for that line. Nice, certainly, but groundbreaking? Absolutely: for this to work, your local Bluetooth installation has to know about your phone and automatically make friends with it when you come in -- and that makes your phone a very powerful interface to your local computing systems. Which just happen to be taking over your entire life, round about now.

We're already seeing very small but perfectly capable PCs motherboards disguising themselves as home entertainment boxes -- Via's Hi-Fi concept PC uses its book-sized Mini-ITX motherboard hidden behind some funky backlit glass to run a CD and DVD player exactly as you'd expect. Only because it's a PC you can also do all that MP3 and video downloading stuff: with a bit of fiddling and some wireless networking around the house, you can have Wagner's Ring blasting in the bathroom while your kid's watching a Tenacious D video in the kitchen, and for not that much dosh. Do you need to faff with buttons and screens everywhere? Nope. Your phone will do all that, and -- considering you bought it just to be a phone -- it comes as a free gift.

I know that in five years' time, this will have come to pass. You will have a home where frighteningly capable slabs of obsidian glass will control your life, your pleasures, your every moment. You will have bought them because you, like me, believe that this is somehow more fun, and that you -- not the slabs -- will retain the final say. Your little pocket phone will then crash, and as your family leaves you cursing in the darkness, you'll wonder why you ever thought such a stupid thing. It's not easy being Technology Editor. But I'll be there for you.

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