The last four years have shown remarkable growth in smartphone ownership, which has changed the mobile landscape. Prior to 2007, few folks had smartphones, and if they did, their handsets ran on PalmOS, Windows Mobile, Symbian or BlackBerry.
These days, BlackBerry is still around, but stumbling, while Symbian is no longer a viable future platform. Instead, iOS and Android are the predominant players while Microsoft tries a second shot at this market with Windows Phone. I’ve used smartphone since before this shift and see both positive advances and new challenges. As a result, I’m rethinking my mobile toolset for 2012 using these ideas.
- Cross-platform apps are now a must for me. These days I’m using both an iPhone 4S and a Galaxy Nexus. Both have pros and cons, and both are very capable devices. But I’m now at the point, where using two platforms daily is causing more stress and hassle due to apps supporting one or the other OS. I’ll still be looking for the best software solutions, but now more than ever, I’ll be more interested in an app if it runs on both of the top two mobile platforms. I loved using Instagram when my 4S arrived, but now that I also have a Nexus, I stopped using the service. I like Instapaper too, however, Evernote Clearly lets me clip or read web pages across multiple platforms.
- Cross-platform apps are also a must for my family. When I was the only smartphone user in the house, app choice had no impact on my family. Now I have two kids Android smartphones and my wife totes an iPhone 4S. This scenario will become more common in the near future as household members all get smartphones and use them as “collective tools.” We need apps and services that allow us to collaborate on shopping lists, our locations, and our finances, with apps such as Cozi, Glympse and Mint.
- Centralized notifications are more important than ever. With my two phones, two tablets, a laptop and desktop, the number of notifications I see daily is getting out of hand and a huge waste of time. A task reminder or bill payment alert, for example only needs to be seen one time, not once on every single device. In 2012, I’ll be searching high and low for apps that use centralized server-side notifications over client-side reminders.
- I only want to read a message one time. This idea is similar to the prior: There’s simply no need in this day and age to be reading the same things over and over. We generally don’t do that with email — thank goodness — and we shouldn’t be doing so with other mobile communications methods. One of the reasons I’ve long used Echofon as a Twitter client on iOS and OS X is because it syncs tweets, DMs and mentions. Meaning: if I read those on my iPhone and later log on to Echofon on the Mac, I don’t have mark all those DMs as read again, for example. Of course, there’s no Android client for Echofon, so it’s not yet a perfect solution for me.
- Continue to follow my 7 mobile mantras. I wrote these in October 2009, but they still hold true. Some are common sense, but as they say, common sense is often uncommon. Over the holidays, I ordered a spare battery for my Galaxy Nexus, I’m heavily leveraging cloud services for nearly all of my data, and I always have a backup mobile broadband solution at the ready to make sure I have access to the cloud.
- Learn to get my devices to do the mundane. I don’t just mean phones, tablets and laptops; instead, I’m now looking to get these to work with other connected devices. My smart home project consists of several web-connected light switches, a thermostat and webcam. I’m now looking at apps like Tasker and Locale on Android to work with my smart home: Why manually lower the thermostat, for example, when leaving the house? I often forget to do so, but my phone “knows” I’m leaving thanks to the GPS radio, so it should do the mundane for me. I started to learn Python scripting late last year — you can learn it for free via M.I.T. — to help with this effort. There’s a wealth of opportunity here.
In the early days of smartphones, having a great software solution was good enough. And for some, it still is. But the smartphone is becoming the tool of choice by a greater number of people each day, both at the family level and beyond. As a result, the best mobile apps and solutions going forward will need to be cross-platform, collaborative and offer centralized notifications to keep us all productive without overwhelming us with too much information.