When looking to replace my old mobile ‘phone late last year, I used Twitter and blogs to get some user feedback on the option at the top of my shortlist (a productive process that included a long and helpful review of the many pros and a few cons of my choice from one friend). As a result, I am now the proud owner of a HTC Hero smartphone. This uses the Android operating system, offers both 3G and wifi connectivity and synchronises seamlessly with my Gmail account (plus Facebook and Flickr). From being mainly reliant upon a laptop or netbook to keep in touch, I am now able to communicate from a pocket-sized device whenever I want and wherever I happen to be.
I will not be the only one enjoying this increased level of freedom. My daughter, her cousin and several of her friends all have new mobiles – all putting Facebook at their fingertips. And enduring the winter sales last week, the mobile phone shops looked busier than ever and netbooks were in high demand in my local PCWorld and Currys – often bundled with a broadband dongle.
Having highly portable access to the internet, and to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, will doubtless increase the chances that employees will be able to be bypass corporate restrictions. As I related just before Christmas (Ban social media, lose the marketing war, lose staff), it is now straightforward for socially-minded individuals to get online, and organisations need to be thinking more about how they encourage responsible use of social networking by their employees rather than trying to block access.
I got an additional insight into the potential opportunities (and risks) of social media when I started using Layar, a downloadable augmented reality application, on my phone. This application combines GPS, camera and compass to identify your surroundings and then overlay information on screen in real time. I can, for example point my phone at a building in central London and it displays relevant pages from Wikipedia; point it at a restaurant or pub and it displays Yelp! customer reviews; apply a Twitter layer, and Layar shows live Tweets of nearby people in whichever direction I point my phone (what would I learn if I pointed my phone at your building, I wonder?).
From an architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) perspective, there are already AR layers relating to house sales and prices, and I have tried archINFORM, an online international architecture database (above – shows that the Royal Victoria Dock Pedestrian Bridge is 2.8km away from my house). As my friend Simon Johns described in Building Design just before Christmas (View the future in your phone), it will be possible to overlay renderings of finished buildings over empty sites or partially completed structures, obtain residents’ comments, images and questions about the design, or view the details of particular components used in the building:
“Post-construction, facilities management and maintenance could walk round the finished building, being able to ‘click’ on the building components and getting specifications, data, construction methods, or being able to control the elements — HVAC, security, fire, lift logic and so forth.”
For me, this opens up all sorts of exciting prospects, though I am sure there will be architects and other industry professionals quaking at the prospect of ‘democratic design’.* Simon says companies are currently only “nibbling at the edges of the technology”, with few commercial products yet on the market, but this will quickly change, I think, as more and more software developers begin to realise the potential of the technologies and associated data.
Moreover (and to return to my earlier point), we will be less and less reliant upon desktop or laptop hardware. According to Morgan Stanley last month (source: ReadWriteWeb), the mobile web is set to outstrip the desktop web, becoming at least twice the size. Within five years, they predict more users will connect to the web via mobile devices than PCs. And the FT is predicting sales of new ‘smartbooks’ will challenge the ascendancy of netbooks as users seek to bridge the gap between smartphones and laptops.