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Good Technology

Technology is often not used in the ways it was originally intended. Text messaging on mobile phones was essentially a by-product, but now most people find it indispensable. The law of unintended consequences means the medium may be the message, but technology shifts and adapts in unpredictable ways. The only thing we can be sure of, it is shape-shifting quicker than ever.

The current undisputed king of technology is Apple, which has just posted record profits; its sales of the iPhone and iPad more than doubled this year, producing a net income for 2011, second quarter, of $7.13bn and revenues of $28.6bn.

In these three months, Apple sold more than 20 million iPhones and 9.25 million iPads. Apple has succeeded in producing attractive, aspirational and relatively affordable gadgets, that are testament to the enduring power of the brand.

Mobiles are usurping other bits of kit; all mobiles have a camera, a clock and a calculator. Watch sales have plummeted. You would imagine professional photographers would always carry a camera, but that is not actually the case.

Teru Kuwayama and Balazs Gardi are war photographers, who used an iPhone and an application, called Hipstamatic, to take a series of photos in Afghanistan. The app allows iPhone users to take digital ‘Polaroids’. The two used it when embedded with a battalion of US marines.

Kuwayama said: “We didn’t go out there expecting to use Hipstamatic. We had several different cameras, lenses and video recorders.” They settled on it because of its retro aesthetic and because the iPhone “was the ideal, rugged piece of gear for southern Afghanistan.” With its simple touch-screen, it did not trap dust like larger cameras can; handy in a desert location.

This was Gardi’s second Afghan mission and he said: “Before, I would have three cameras hanging off me. Using just the iPhone allowed me to move much more easily.” The lack of a long lens forced them to get close to their subjects, resulting in an intimate series of portraits of Afghan civilians and US servicemen.

The two were part of a journalistic endeavour called Basetrack, which tries to bypass mainstream media and provide a personal news source for friends and family of serving marines. Kuwayama said: “The iPhone is this ubiquitous thing that everyone has got in their pocket; it fitted with our idea of de-mystifying journalism.”

Would the pair use the iPhone again? “Not as a phone – it never even had a sim card,” says Gardi. “But I’ve used it as my prime camera ever since.”

Michael Saylor is the chief executive of business software group, MicroStrategy. At the recent Social Media Marketing and Icommerce summit, in Monte Carlo, he said the iPad is heading for a monopoly in the tablet market.

Samsung, Dell and HTC have all built tablets using the Google-led Android system. Saylor said: ” Consumers are redefining the smartphone and tablet market. While the Android coalition has had significant success in persuading consumers there is an alternative to the iPhone, in the tablet market, the iPad is the only mass-market success story.”

Saylor said, unless the Android coalition gained traction, “Apple will have a monopoly, like Windows enjoyed with the PC.” He added; “the tablet market is at a precarious state in development. Once you factor in corporations adopting iPads, there could be a tipping point in the market.”

He was at the summit to demonstrate a number of new software platforms for brands, including a new cloud-based service, Gateway for Facebook. The platform sits on top of Facebook’s social graph, to enable brands to deliver CRM marketing, sales, loyalty and mobile applications directly to consumers.

‘Cloud computing’ is a very popular term currently and is said to be the future of IT and of business. Cloud computing is actually an umbrella term for a number of trends; they all involve the internet and its potential to simplify the way we use computers and extend their capabilities.

The cloud is really the internet and cloud computing means putting more of your material out there and less on own-run PCs or servers. The idea is to outsource the maintenance burden of servers and applications and harness the benefits of being able to access data from anywhere, with internet access.

Some larger companies want cloud computing benefits, but without running any possible risks of trusting their data to third parties. They can create their own cloud-like infrastructure, with a private cloud. A public cloud refers to providers like Amazon, Google and salesforce.com, whose shared services are available to all. A hybrid cloud would use public and private services.

There are, however, reasons for caution. Sony recently admitted hackers had stolen personal information, possibly credit-card details, of many of the 77 million users of its online gaming and entertainments networks. Amazon suffered a lengthy breakdown of one of its giant server farms, which it rents out.

These two events raise the question of whether customers can trust the essential concept of the cloud; that you can buy computing services from the internet, like gas or water from a utility. Companies and individuals need to be aware of the risks of being too reliant on a single supplier; consumers should also ensure they do not use the passwords on multiple online systems.

35% of Americans own a smartphone, with inbuilt broadband access, which means the way we access the internet is rapidly changing. If we access it via tightly controlled and regulated networks, it will be the giant companies who force innovation at their own pace and repel new arrivals. This goes against the founding democratic principles of the internet, which is increasingly being used as a business tool.

People, including Nokia, were unprepared for the speed of the growth of the smartphone, and they are definitely the future.

Technology writers would, until recently, have always advised someone looking for a smartphone, to get an iPhone, but Apple now has some proper competition, with the Samsung Galaxy S2, being the iPhone 4’s main rival. It is elegant in design, has a great interface and offers features unavailable elsewhere.

The S2 (c.£700) has full HD video recording, a 4.3″ screen, great speed and is an Android phone, with new apps such as WiFi Direct, which means it can connect to other devices. If you have a Samsung TV, it will function as a remote control.

Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play (c.£270) has introduced Playstation gaming to the mobile, Motorola’s Defy (c.£230) is robust and splashproof and its Atrix (c.£350) plugs into its own laptop-style dock. LG’s Optimus 3D (c.£650)offers 3D content without the need to wear glasses. The HTC Sensation (c.£700) is the company flagship Android device and its HD7 (c.£420) runs Windows Phone, which is due to be updated later in the year. Finally, Blackberry’s Torch (c.£600) features both a touchscreen and a slide-out keyboard.

But the iPhone 4 (c.£500) still rules the roost. It is a beautiful design and, with its enormous apps store, it offers a world of entertainment and functionality. Apple has succeeded in making its products both useable and aspirational and the upcoming iCloud update will mean, for example, that photos can be automatically uploaded and shared across your Apple devices.

The iPad 2 (c.£500) looks great; you can synchronise it with an iTunes account, which basically turns it into a giant iPod, but it’s too big to be a handy MP3 player. If you have signed up for a monthly mobile phone contract you can get the internet anywhere in the world, but roaming charges abroad will be prohibitive. This makes it like an iPhone, but you can’t send texts and you will look ridiculous using it as a phone.

As a journalist, I would need to buy a separate keyboard to make the most of it and to write articles; I’d need to purchase an app called Pages which would enable me to do everything I can do on a laptop; except slower. So the question is; why not just buy a laptop? Also, the iPad does not run Flash player, so content from thousands of sites is unavailable.

Essentially, the iPad 2 is a hybrid of an oversized iPod and an under-performing laptop; and I want one. It is a beautiful executive toy that will continue to sell and dominate the technological landscape for some time to come.

Nigel Phillips

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