by Gail Berg ©1996-2013
Please note, this article was written in the summer of 2010, more than six months before the release of the iPhone 4 and the announcement of Verizon's first iPhone.
In the twenty-first century, it’s becoming expected (at least in urban areas) that you have a cell phone as your main “in person” communication method. Wired phone lines are sometimes becoming an extraneous, unneeded, expense.
Mobile devices keep evolving too. From the simple pager, to “make a phone call” cell phone, to PDAs (personal digital assistant) with phone capabilities, to a SMS text message centric cell phone, to the latest smart phones, like the iPhone or Droid.
This article will concentrate on the two largest, and fastest, growing segments of the smart phone revolution, the iPhone and Droid camps. The Blackberry has some of the capabilities, but none of the hype and little of the growth, of the other two, but as of early 2011 has started marketing itself as a competitor to the iPhone and Droid with new TV commercials.
Smart phones have even evolved to the point that you might choose to leave your merchant account credit card processor at home (or even cancel the service) and use your phone only at your next selling event.
A smart phone differs from the older mobile devices in that it not only allows voice calls and text messages (SMS), but also transmits data via the cellular network. The data is transmitted on the 3G or 4G (third- or fourth-generation of communications protocols) digital portion of the cellular network.
Some non-smart phones allow users to browse a subset of the internet, but smart phones do that and so much more.
Their expanding capabilities lie in downloadable applications (apps) that add functionality to the phone. Apps can be as simple as turning on the LED panel to use as a flashlight, to as complex as connecting with GPS satellites and navigating you to your destination (by foot, bicycle, public transportation, or car), or listening to streaming radio channels. Not to mention all the organizational apps available.
The smart phone usually adds a data line item to the monthly expense (in addition to the voice and any text/SMS a la cart charges). The data portion often has a limit on the amount of data transmitted, so if you download movies, stream live radio, you might want to check if there’s an unlimited data plan available.
As service providers change their available packages seemingly hourly, I am not able to provide even a partial list of providers/plans. Some “prepaid” options are even becoming available with “smart phone” capabilities, but know the features you need to determine if this is a practical option for you. It may be best to look at all providers in your local area to find the best deal for you.
Some features/options to consider when looking for smart phone service plans:
The iPhone was initially released January 9, 2007, and has been the envy of non-smart phone users since. June 27, 2010 saw the release of the Apple iPhone 4G, with more than 1.7 million units sold in three days.
While the iPhone was first to hit the market, due to an exclusive deal on a single (US) wireless/cellular provider and some supply limitations, the Droid has gained in popularity and market share.
The Droid, released more than two years after the iPhone on February 9, 2009, has been enjoying steady growth and increase of market share, to nearly half of the entire market. The operating system actually began development in 2003.
The iPhone has been rumored to (eventually) be available on other wireless/cellular providers perhaps as early as late 2009, but no official date has been set. One recent report indicates possible availability in January 2011, but such dates seem to keep slipping.
The basic functionality of the two leading smart phones are similar, with large LED touch screen, camera, etc. The real differences are on the inside, with the operating systems. The iPhone operating system uses a similar approach to the Apple Macintosh development (closed OS, single producer), while the Droid (family) uses an open operating system (Android, based in part on Linux and Java, open source) and multiple manufacturers, including Motorola, HTC. Note that each cellular provider may have a different set of versions available. In this article, CNET compares some of the latest smart phones. This article compares the speed between the latest versions of iPhone and Droid (as of summer 2010).
The (authorized) app “stores” have tens of thousands of options available for download, and the number available increases daily. Apps are available at no cost (free) to tens of dollars, usually. Some companies also make their applications available for download outside the official stores.
A 2010 study found that more than half of the apps available for the Droid were free, while most other sources had only about a third available at no cost. Most paid apps are available for $2 or less.
The functionality offered by apps varies from the important to the extraneous. (The latter category includes games and other non-business productivity apps. I will not address these in this article, nor examine any of the sound/visual modifications, such as new wall papers or themes, nor ring tones. Many of your favorite retailers may also have apps available for buying online, and other companies you do business with may have an app to interact with.) I will be looking at categories of apps that have a business/productivity or connectivity emphasis.
Standard/delivered applications/functionality usually include: phone, contacts, calendar, access to app “store”, text messaging, web browser, email, camera, calculator, music and video player.
But the apps available to expand the functionality grow fast.
Although as of July 2010, the number of applications available for the iPhone exceeded that for the Droid, the number of developers of new apps for the Droid is greater than that for the iPhone, so the number of apps should increase. It’s estimated that the Droid marketplace will have over 100,000 apps by the end of July 2010 (8000 apps were added within the first third of July).
I apologize for the lack of detail on iPhone apps. I do not have access to an iPhone to check out the app store. Further detail on this is planned in a later update.
Now let’s look at some specific subsets of apps that might be of interest to a business owner. Note that there may be other apps and categories out there, so these lists should not be considered comprehensive.
Some apps will allow you to better utilize the battery power usage or improve the basic functionality of your phone.
Other than signal strength, the main thing that might limit the functionality of your phone is battery usage. Some applications use a lot of battery power, so the ability to limit and track battery usage is important.
Finding an app that can “kill” all (unneeded) apps to save on battery power is important. Advanced Task Killer (Droid) . Or use something like PhoneWeaver (Droid $6.99) where you can set trigger events (including things on your calendar) to override a standard setting so your phone isn’t ringing in the middle of a meeting (and ensure that the battery-hogging apps are killed).
And just like on a computer, you may want to check downloads for bad stuff (viruses, malware, etc.), such as Lookout Mobile Security (Droid) or Trend Smart Surfing (iPhone).
There are apps that will let callers know you are unavailable to answer the phone, for instance, when you’re driving or in a meeting, by sending a text message to callers or responding text messages; such as AutoResponder (Droid) or Life Saver (iPhone).
Here’s an article on five business related apps for the iPhone. Apple’s summary of key iPhone business apps. And another article on business idea generation apps or the iPhone.
Shipment tracking – UPS, FedEx, USPS, (note that some apps are not shipper-supplied so may not track well) plus numerous free/paid apps that allow for tracking of packages on a variety of services. (As most shipping services also have web access, you can also use a web browser to look up shipment status.)
Bar code scanning
Adobe Reader (Droid, iPhone) - now you can download and view pdf files.
Monetary transactions – Merchant Services Apps
Financial institution access – check your financial institution as they may have an app that allows you to check balances, stop payment on a check, transfer funds and more. (Of course, you could also do this via online banking through the browser.)
Translation tools (voice input)
Check with your insurance companies (car, home, etc.), travel partners (airlines, etc.) as they may have apps to help report an accident and/or reschedule a flight in case of weather.
Often misplace your phone? Use Where’s My Droid and your phone will let you know where it is (going off mute, if necessary). Where is my iPhone has similar capabilities.
Want to cut through all those crazy menus at toll free numbers and talk to a person? Use Dial Zero (Droid, iPhone).
Use the power of the touch screen to search. With Gesture Search (Droid) you can draw the letter and find what you’re looking for (integrates with many apps that have search functionality).
So while you might make the plunge to a new smart phone, what about your customers?
Today, many people still use their mobile devices primarily to make phone calls. As of May 2010, only 38% of users browse the internet (up from 25% from April 2009), but that number will probably only increase.
So, if you’re thinking about making your website better/faster/easier to browse from a mobile device, here’s an article that looks at the changes a business owner might want to make to better accommodate mobile browsing of a website.
If you have a significant enough customer base, you might want to invest in the services of a programmer and develop your own app. For Droid apps, start here. For iPhone apps, start here.
Follow along with the big boys in the retail world as they define the technology and methodology for mobile retail.
"There are three constants in life... change, choice and principles." -- Stephen Covey
When buying a new mobile device, within months a new version will be announced. Take time to do the research and rank trade off between devices and service providers for your business’ needs, not just because it’s a cool phone or had some neat features. The smart phone is updatable (new operating system versions) and expandable (app functionality), so it’s not as static as an old cell phone.
The author uses a Motorola Droid smart phone (the most popular Droid version http://www.phonearena.com/htmls/Motorola-DROID-is-the-most-popular-Android-phone-article-a_12236.html ).
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