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Smartphones are ludicrously under-used, so steal their brains

Who needs computers everywhere when the one in your pocket is ready for work?

Microsoft shows the way

Microsoft's soon-to-be-released Windows 10 Continuum code to transform Win10 smartphone into Win10 desktop workstations - points to the most obvious application of this supercomputer-in-our-pockets, but it's like-for-like. Both smartphone and desktop do roughly the same things in roughly the same way. Continuum is a great bit of tech, but won?t make us rethink the potential in our palms.

On the other hand, many other bits of the world - from televisions to stereos to ovens to washers and pretty much everything else - would hugely benefit from a brain upgrade. Why throw soon-to-be-obsolete electronics into a set-top box, thereby jacking up the price, when the smartphone can do the job better, faster and cheaper? (That, when you think about it, is the motivation behind Windows 10 Continuum.)

Even if we just turn things inside out - from 3D scanning to 3D printing - the smartphone changes everything. Dump a sophisticated brain managing communications, and all a 3D printer really needs are some basic print head controls implemented via Bluetooth. It can leave all the thinking to a smartphone.

Low-end 3D printers already cut costs by offloading the workload to a connected computer. With a smartphone cradled into it, that same 3D printer becomes cheaper, smarter, more connected, and much more programmable.

Why not do something similar for our automobiles? Today, smartphones run car comms and stereos, but couldn't they be doing efficiency analysis of the driving and navigation and all sorts of other important and intelligent tasks?

None of this is terrifically hard to implement - so long as we lose the illusion that the smartphone needs to stay in our hand or handbag when we're not staring into its glow. Instead, wherever we go, and whatever we do, a cradle should be ready to embrace our smartphone, keeping it charged and happy while the device manages whatever bit of kit we need to use in that moment.

Here's another take on ubiquitous computing. First, the cloud gave us our data, everywhere. Now the smartphone gives us computing power, everywhere.

We don't need to wait for Moore's Law to enable massive computer power so cheap it ends up embedded in every device. In the interval, we can use the brains we brought with us. We must design with the smartphone in mind - not just as a control interface, but as the nexus of intelligence and awareness for all of the devices around us.

That amazing 3D scanner was just a first taste of a new generation of cheap but very smart gadgets. These children of the smartphone will be everywhere - and in everything - before long. The world's about to get a whole lot smarter. ®

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