The smartphone really makes us smart

Mobile & apps

The vision of an intelligent digital assistant that can access human knowledge via the internet and provide its owner with clever and helpful support has been around for many years. In 1987, for example, the then Apple boss John Sculley described a fictional computer called "Knowledge Navigator" which a university professor uses as a networked tablet computer, personal assistant, communication center and networked knowledge machine. But to this day, most devices with the word "Smart" in their name cannot even begin to come close to this vision.

"Up until now, the word 'smart' on most smartphones only meant that they were connected to the Internet," said Shawn Dubravac, chief economist of the US consumer electronics association (CEA), on the eve of the CES International 2013 trade fair in Las Vegas. "Most of the devices weren't particularly smart, if the word went."

But even the latest generation of smartphones can do more than just make phone calls and surf the web: modern devices such as the iPhone 5 or Nokia Lumia not only have a microphone for voice transmission, but also a number of sound transducers that register ambient noise that should be filtered out of the telephone voice. However, according to current studies, telephoning and other forms of communication only account for a third of the use of a typical smartphone. Devices of this type have long since become game consoles. Today, however, telephones or tablet computers are also used to operate televisions, navigate cars or display the results of small step counters in clear graphics.

With the drop in prices for sensors and other innovative components, this trend will intensify this year and expand into sectors such as the automotive industry. The self-driving car from Google, which is equipped with all conceivable sensors, was able to cover almost 500,000 kilometers without an accident last year. This year, findings from this project and comparable efforts at car manufacturers such as VW and Toyota or suppliers such as Continental should lead to more intelligent driver assistants.

The trend towards "sensorisation" also influences other areas of everyday life. Moisture sensors can signal garden owners without "green fingers" when the bushes or flower pots urgently need a watering can. Companies such as Fitbug, Fitbit, Bodymedia or Medisana AG from Neuss near Düsseldorf have specialized in medical measuring devices and fitness gadgets that measure blood pressure, determine blood sugar levels, measure body weight or record sporting activities and then use a smartphone or tablet computer communicate. "The smartphone is becoming the screen of our digital everyday life," says Dubravac.

At CES you can also marvel at bizarre interpretations of the brave new sensor world. The "Hapitrack" device from the US manufacturer Hapilabs is supposed to determine whether the owner is happy. And the electronic fork "Hapifork" from the same company registers exactly at what speed the food is consumed. If the Hapifork user gobbles the food too quickly, the fork will vibrate strongly. (dpa / tc)