Magazine article Online

Phone Home

Magazine article Online

Phone Home

Article excerpt

Have you ever read the instructions that came with your mobile phone? You'll find everything you need to know--except how to use your phone as, well, a phone. Taking pictures and videos, texting, sending email, accessing the internet, tweeting, blogging, reading maps and documents, playing games, listening to music, watching videos, researching, and keeping track of what's on your calendar--that's apparently what you need to know to operate your mobile phone. Talking on it? That's not high on the list of applications.

Look around you. People use mobile phones for all manner of things never mentioned in the instruction manual. It can substitute for a flashlight, a watch, and an alarm clock. Use it to check in via foursquare or Gowalla. Other undocumented uses include getting airline boarding passes and checking prices at retail stores. The latter was particularly evident in December as holiday shoppers compared prices via their phones. Library-related applications include finding books in local libraries and searching online databases.

How close is the word "phone" to oblivion? Those who hedge their bets and use the terminology "mobile device" are probably closer to the mark. What about the act of phoning? Advised by her mother to phone the airline about a possible flight delay, a friend of mine, who is in her late 20s, responded with, "Who phones an airline?"--the web is a faster and more accurate source of flight information--and she can use the browser on her mobile device.

The miniaturization of information delivery to a mobile device's screen poses particular challenges to developers. Paradoxically, the other trend in hardware is toward larger and/or multiple screens at the desktop. Optimizing research databases for both small and large screens requires resources that libraries don't always possess. In his Control-Shift column, Jeff Wisniewski gives several examples of library mobile websites and how they have successfully integrated user needs into the design. …

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