It is common these days to hear it said that, for many people, the phone will be the computer they use. In many areas, that will mean the phone is the only device available to provide application support that might elsewhere be provided by a PC.
But smart phones increasingly are becoming “different” from PCs, as well. Smart phones are, in essence, sensors. Unlike PCs, smart phones can provide location information. Sometimes they can use the camera to identify and annotate the objects around a person. In other cases, the mobile device will be used to create pictures and video.
Increasingly, accelerometers are available to monitor changes in device orientation, speed and direction. By extension, that can provide telemetry about the person carrying the device, or the vehicle the person is inside.
So smart phones are starting to differentiate from PCs. Think of them as sensors, not just computers.
What will happen next, as we sort through the obvious privacy issues, is that application developers will start to think about all those millions of sensors moving about, and start creating apps that build on the sensor features.
And developers will not necessarily be restricted by the native sensor functions of smart phones, either. As long as there are USB ports, one can imagine peripherals that support various sensing modes not native to the smart phone, such as temperature, chemical composition of the air, wind velocity, humidity, air pressure and so forth.
Developers already have created plug-in peripherals that turn an iPhone into a cash register for purposes of swiping credit cards and accepting payments. The same sort of thing might be done when other sorts of sensors are required.
Thinking about what might be done requires starting from a different vantage point, though. One has to imagine first the hundreds of millions of general purpose computing devices in daily use, physically correlated with people in space and time, each with native communications capability. What sorts of problems can be solved if those capabilities are applied?