News Column

All Aboard the Apps Bandwagon

Oct. 12, 2012

Wanda Sloan


Despite the hardware wars and the multibillion-dollar lawsuits over operating systems, a 3G phone without attractive applications is not really more useful than a cheap mobile with a 1-2-Call SIM.

A lot of 3G devices are not even telephones at all, tablets being the obvious proof but not the only ones.

Hand it to Apple (again), that Steve Jobs and his engineers turned out a lovely piece of equipment with the iPhone, but the only thing that set it apart from everything else was the ability to download, install and use software, pretty much just like a personal computer.

The beauty of 3G is it provides the speed and to a small extent extra sophistication to turn the talk-and-text telephone into an even more personal version of the personal computer.

Numbers? The Apple iStore has 650,000 apps available. Google Play has (very) roughly the same number for users of the Android system.

Apple customers have downloaded them more than 30 billion times. Yes _ billion with a "b". Android users have downloaded more than 20 billion apps.

Do you think the iPhone and iPad might catch on? In May, the download queue passed 15 billion. Doubling the downloads in less than half a year means something.

And while someone (probably an Apple person) invented the use of the word "app", it is the same as a PC application _ software that you use on the phone's screen to do ... well, something you want.

The type of software available is no different from what the really old people who use computers see. Some is free, some you must buy, some allows you to try for a short time, after which you buy it or delete it. Some of it ... wait, is there anyone listening? Some of it is pirated.

Most apps do not function well, or at all, unless the host system _ tablet or smartphone, Apple or Android or Windows _ can use 3G.

The secret and very necessary ingredient in the apps-on-devices movement is speed. Computers got faster and faster and applications got better and more complex. The same thing is happening, only far more quickly, in the "device market" sweeping the world.

3G provides horsepower. Phone and tablet apps require access outside the device itself, but the old wireless spectra that ran your neat Nokia talk-or-text phones a few years ago have nowhere near the power required to sling your Angry Birds, let alone check every 10 minutes for email.

In online computer terms, the now disappearing 2G phones need a 300-baud modem. The new 3G smartphones need broadband internet.

When you get a smartphone running on a 3G network, it is similar to an internet-connected computer except it's mobile. You get Facebook updates including photos while you're in meetings. You get news headlines and stories and the video while you're riding the BTS. Your work colleagues update your appointment calendar while you're on the way from the salon to ladies' night at the club.

You can use a 3G phone like you used your 800-baht Nokia. These days, in fact, many people do. But having real 3G to power the phone turns it into a PC in your pocket or pocketbook.

Many people won't be able to handle this, at least at first. (Witness the academic reports and letters to the editor explaining how civilisation will end because first graders have tablets.) "The old way is good enough for me."

And for many, it is. Keep your old phone and the 1-2-Call system, by all means.

Pretty soon, people will ask you why you didn't answer their e-mail they sent 20 minutes ago _ it was urgent, you know. This is not a judgement, merely a statement of what will happen.

When 3G is generally available, people will generally use it and obtain the devices they need to do so. It is part of evolving technology. There are still people who don't use computers for anything at all, but they are increasingly considered quaint, even eccentric.

3G is a subrevolution of technology, and an important one. It is shameful that authorities have delayed _ and been allowed to delay _ this increasingly vital communications system to bypass the country for so long.

It is likely when telecom firms begin to build out 3G systems, 3G devices will become as ubiquitous as 2G phones are today. That is, everyone will have one.

Source: (c)2012 the Bangkok Post (Bangkok, Thailand) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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