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When it comes to personal technology, some words you heard in 2010 will be even more prominent in 2011. Those words are smartphones, tablets and apps.
Technology expert Kris Abel said personal computers have traditionally been used for work, such as spreadsheets to crunch numbers or to write reports. You had to sit in front of them. But technology has progressively become more mobile and compact. Today's smartphones put incredible computing power in the palm of your hand, Abel said. Apple Computer's iPad, which went on sale in Canada in late May, changed the game once again. "If you like to lounge in your home," the iPad makes it easy to take your computer with you, Abel said. Both tablet computers and smartphones use software known as apps to deliver content and services, he said. Abel said of the two, your first purchase should be a smartphone -- if you need a new phone. If you don't need it and you are happy with your current cellphone, save your money, he said, adding not everyone can afford such a device. "But from a technology perspective, that's where all the innovation is headed," he said. With a smartphone, one important capability is GPS. Your phone can find where you are virtually anywhere on the planet and plot your position on a Google Map, Abel said. In Los Angeles, Abel said his phone helped him plot a route to get to the airport by city bus. On another trip to San Francisco, it helped protect him from being ripped off by a cab driver. From an apps perspective, here's another way a smartphone can help you. Let's say you enjoy wine but want some advice on picking a bottle. Toronto's WineAlign helps you find the right wine and tells you if it is in stock at your local LCBO. It can provide that service to your BlackBerry, iPhone or other smartphone via an app. Major retailers such as Canadian Tire have apps. Your bank will have one that can allow you to do much of your day-to-day banking by telephone. As to what kind of smartphone you should buy, Andrian Bulzacki of Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone likes his Android-powered phone. Android is an open-source system developed by Internet powerhouse Google. A new version, Android 2.3, is coming in early 2011. It will offer more multimedia function. Bulzacki said one advantage is it runs on different types of phones, which gives you a choice of devices. "With Apple, it's just the iPhone, and that's it," said Abel. For those looking to buy closer to mid-summer, Bulzacki advised them to consider the Windows Phone 7 from Microsoft (disclosure: Digital Medium Zone is producing a Sudoku 3D app for the platform). As to tablets, Bulzacki said people should wait until the next generation of devices comes out. They should offer more features and will be lower in price. Bulzacki wants to see a camera and a USB port in the next generation of iPad. Abel cautioned that tablets are nice-to-haves for consumers -- if you already own a good mobile phone and a desktop or laptop computer. But changes are coming that will make our lives increasingly digital and mobile, he said. The coming of 4G, or fourth-generation, wireless Internet will mean much faster mobile Internet speeds. The next generation of tablets and smartphones will have more advanced processors that will allow them to handle multi-tasking, Abel said. While they trickled out in 2010, this coming year will see many more app-enhanced products, he said. He gave the example of an app-enhanced alarm clock that had it work together with its owner's iPhone. "By working together, they could collect statistics on your sleeping habits," Abel said. "You could customize the program as to how you wanted to be woken, in terms of ring tones. You could also arrange for it to give you a weather report when you wake up, and the latest headlines from Twitter or Facebook," he said. "So this is something we're going to see more of -- products that have the ability to download an app and then work in tandem with your various devices." Look for TVs and refrigerators that can download apps and work in concert with your smartphone. This is how technology is going to become ever more intertwined with our lives.

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