Unlocking the true potential of smartphones

Lately, I’ve been thinking and working a lot with multiple-screen applications that run across desktop and Android devices. The reason for doing this is pretty simple: my first four computers were less powerful than the current smartphone I’m using these days.

And still I was doing far more things then I do with my phone now. So what are we using the smartphone for? I think we use a smartphone mainly for: making phone calls, Internet browsing, mailing, GPS, listening to music, and playing games. But is this all we can do? I think not.

One of my dreams is to be able to use my phone for tasks that I accomplished using the same tools 5-10 years ago. Let me give you some examples: we all have at home a number of remote controls: for the TV sets, DVD player, sound system, Air Conditioner system, TV set-top-box and the list could go on and on. The basic interaction between us and these devices hasn’t changed lately. Maybe you could replace some of these remote controls with an expensive one, touch based. This is only a compromise. We should be able to use our smartphones for these kinds of tasks and much more.

I mean we all carry the phones all day; they have beautiful screens and you can interact with them using the touchscreen interface. The biggest issue that prevents us from doing this is that most of the systems we are using today don’t talk the same language, nor do they offer a common API to interconnect them.

Hopefully this is starting to change. With the extension of the Flash Platform on smartphones (for now only on Android phones, but soon it will be available on other phones too) and on the TV sets/set-top-boxes we are one step closer to achieving a unified system. So instead of relying on manufacturers to expose a common API, we can leverage a common runtime that runs across devices. Imagine that you’d be able to use your smartphone for:

  • Checking the current temperature in your home (even when you are not at home) and starting/stopping/reprogramming the AC
  • Being able to change TV channels from your phone
  • Being able to check the schedule and make a recording right from your phone
  • Start recording a program on your way back home because you’ll be late and don’t want to miss the NBA final
  • Controlling your music system from any room or even from your lawn
  • Checking the grocery list your wife wrote two days ago while shopping

Some of these are already possible using some expensive home automation systems. Others are possible using a cloud solution. I think the ubiquity of the Flash Platform on a larger number of different devices and the huge number of Flash developers will make many of these available in the near future for everyone who cares and decides wisely what devices to buy.Why? Because on one hand it will be cheaper to develop a solution for multiple devices due to one common runtime and one language/framework to learn and, on the other hand, the Flash community is full of people who are not afraid to dream and who love to push the limits (just have a look at projects like Nexus One Wireless Slot Car Gas Pedal, Audiotool, Screenergy, or Creaza.com if you don’t believe me).

Until then, I will keep dreaming and try to build some of these myself. I’m looking forward to Google TV and the first TV sets that “speak” Flash.

What do you think?

LATER UPDATE: I’ve just seen this cool Android app build with AIR and Flex 4 that controls Freebox STB: http://chubby75.com/blog/?p=9

2 thoughts on “Unlocking the true potential of smartphones

  1. Great post, 100% agree. People (users and developers) outside of Asia are finally getting exposed to the many practical uses of a smart phone. As developers gain more experience and users demand more functionality it will be very exciting to see the types of applications and the uses that come into being.

    The one area where I think Flash/Flex developers will have an advantage over traditional application developers (ie Java) is we are more familiar with building highly interactive and engaging experiences. That being said I suspect our disadvantage will be that as a group Flash/Flex devs don’t have the same level of experience in properly managing resources and memory like Java devs.

    Here’s a blog post on my thoughts regarding Flash and Flex development for Android, http://www.dgrigg.com/post.cfm/06/23/2010/Developing-Flash-applications-for-Android

    Interesting days ahead for sure.

  2. @Derrick Grigg

    Indeed, you need to take extra care when developing for mobile. And probably the tougher judge will be the clients. It is far easier to spot a bad app on a mobile than on a desktop so it will be harder to sell your app or services if you don’t care about quality.

    PS. Good post you have over there :)

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