Smart phones are rapidly becoming the object of desire in the younger generation, given their capability to support a variety of applications. Business men are also quick in their adoption. All together we have seen their market share growing significantly in the well to do markets. In terms of overall percentage they represent a tiny fraction of cell phones, since the lion share now, and in the next few years is represented by those bought in the developing countries, mostly China, India and Brazil that are very low cost cell phones.
At the recent Future Cities workshop I participated at the MIT Anthony Townsend, the director of the Institute for the Future pointed out that with a smart phone it is possible to measure the pulse of a city, leveraging on sensors that are embedded in the phone and on its capability of hosting applications to crunch data. He mentioned the apps running on the iPhone developed by the municipality of Boston that exploits the accelerometer in the iPhone to detect bumps in the roads. Linking this data with the localization data and performing a statistical evaluation of messages received the municipality can be informed of the presence of potholes in the roads and take action.
You can use the cell phone to detect bacteria and viruses, pollen and particulate: the number of data that will be possible to create through a smart phone will keep growing and smart cities and smart environment can be “smart” by processing these data.
Low grade cell phones do not have these capabilities and Townsend pointed out the increasing gap created by this technology a Smart World that is smart only for the rich (or well to do).
Should we go back to the concept of universal service and impose by law a certain minimum set of features that any phone has to support? But is this feasible in developing countries where 15 $ phones have a market?
It is indeed a Catch 22 dilemma: we can exploit the Information Society by making use of what the most advanced technology can provide but at the same time by doing that we are restricting most of its benefit to those who can afford. And here we are not talking about fancy screens you can live without but services to save cost, energy, proactive medicine, better nutrition…
Is technology widening the gap between the have and the have nots?