Our Handy Companions: How Smartphones Optimize our Lives

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In the world of mobile technology, things move pretty quickly. Each year hardware gets faster, software gets more intuitive and smartphones get, well, smarter. With each new iPhone launch and iOS update, devices become more advanced, more refined, and more able.

With the help of these digital assistants, we’re ready to maneuver over different terrains at a moment’s notice. Navigating to an unknown part of the city? Pull out your phone. Need to check a document you saved to the cloud before heading into a meeting? Pull out your phone. Want to capture a quick pic of that skateboarding dog to Snapchat to your friend so she can Instagram it to Twitter? Pull out your phone.

When you take the time to consider all that becomes possible when we collaborate with our devices, you come to rest on one indisputable premise: smartphones give us superpowers.

But just to what extent do our mobile companions aid in day-to-day actions? And how much do we take our devices for granted with all the abilities we now possess—abilities that would have been simply inconceivable just a mere two decades ago? After all, it’s become a cultural norm to possess a phone with 200 times the processing power of the first Macintosh.

When you pair human creativity with this kind of computing power, very little falls outside the realm of possibility. The result is a hyper-efficient palm computer containing more tools than we could ever imagine using. And deploying the right tool from this digital Swiss Army knife requires just a quick reach into your pocket—or perhaps your European Caryall in the case of the iPhone 6 Plus.

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The Accessibility Factor

When you have your phone on you, the world simply becomes more accessible. I found myself pondering this idea last week while I was on the golf course of all places. A member of our group was teeing off on the third hole when suddenly his girlfriend pulled out her iPhone and filmed his drive. Moments later we huddled around a 4.7 inch Retina display and watched a golf swing at 240 frames per second.

I’ll admit our golf swings looked rather unflattering in slo-mo, but the fact remains: we no longer need expensive video equipment to gain feedback at this speed and clarity so long as we’re carrying our iPhones. Pretty awesome. This is just one example of what’s possible when advancing hardware meets intelligent software. No wonder the iPhone camera is the number one camera in the world.

And since we’re talking about software, consider the virtually endless variety of applications available in the app store to download. There are literally over a million. With such a diverse set of tools at our disposal at each moment, we are able lead much more dynamic, and dare I say, sophisticated, lives. Whether we’re depositing a check using the RBC mobile app, training our brain using Lumosity or Skyping our grandmother from the Mediterranean, we’re constantly blending our physical world with the digital realm in ways formerly unimaginable. Ultimately we’re able to do more things at a faster speed through increasingly creative channels. That is, of course, if we’re not getting bogged down in endless trials of Temple Run.

The Rise of AI

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What’s even more pertinent to this topic is the artificial intelligence lurking in our phones. Although certainly not leveraged to her full potential by most iPhone users, Siri continues to integrate with a growing number of apps, thereby lengthening her reach across the features in our devices. For example, iOS 8.4 ushered in a new wave of intuitive commands tied to Apple Music. Among these are things like: “play more songs like this” and “after this song, play Love Me Like You Do.”

Also, as announced at WWDC15, iOS 9 will feature intelligent proactive assistance using different contexts—things like GPS, app info and the time of day—to make suggestions. So you can tell Siri things like “remind me when I get home to make a shopping list for Saturday’s party,” among a host of other inputs. Also, Siri will be able to mine your media archives for specific pictures and videos upon your command. You just tell her when and where they were taken.

As AI continues to permeate the operating systems on mobile devices, even laggards will find themselves leaning on these new capabilities in the months to come. As our devices track our usage patterns and self-optimize based on our computing tendencies, joining forces with our phones will become a more fluid and seamless experience than ever.

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When was the last time you spent a full day without your iPhone? Was it a week ago? A month ago? I certainly remember the last time I rolled solo for the day simply because of how hampered I felt throughout the duration.

What’s the weather going to be like this afternoon? Crap, I don’t have my phone. I should quickly notify Jen that I’ll be twenty minutes late to the gym. Crap, I don’t have my phone. I should snap a pic of this book cover and send it Mike, he’s been asking for recommendations. I. Need. My. Phone.

This kind of dependence might almost seem comic, but it’s also quite rational. We have more tools in service than ever before, ready to address our circumstances. Could we survive without these handy companions? Of course. But as more and more becomes possible through mobile computing and our society becomes increasingly intertwined with technology, it would be silly to go without for any extended period of time.

Since smartphones are developing at such a dizzying rate, we’re constantly looking forward to the new and exciting. And as natural as this may be (in the tech world especially), we should stop and take inventory of all of which our devices are capable of today. These devices are truly awesome. And so are the superpowers we all possess because of them.

Contributed exclusively to the Daily Mac View.

By: Dylan Smart