Technology: Apps Are Where It's At In 2010

In the world of technology gadgets, 2009 could be described as the year of e-readers, smart phones and downsized laptops known as netbooks. What does 2010 have in store for fans of technology? Morning Edition tech guru Mario Armstrong says when it comes to applications for smart phones, he expects location-based services to be big.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We are nearing the end of a year that's been in electronic devices the year of e-readers and smartphones and downsized laptop computers also known as netbooks. So you may be wondering what the technology industry has in store for us in the New Year.

We asked our technology commentator Mario Armstrong to come by and make some predictions.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Well, I brought a few things in because these are things that are out and exist now. So what we have here now are a couple of smartphones, the Motorola Droid, the iPhone, and Sony eBook reader, a little netbook. These are existing products.

INSKEEP: But these are things that you think are going to get bigger in the year to come.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. Number one, I think what we'll see is this rumored Apple tablet in 2010.

INSKEEP: What do you mean by a tablet?

ARMSTRONG: Well, for example, we've seen tablets before. I mean, Apple actually has a track record with this. But here's one that's a little bit older. It's an HP one that has a keyboard and then you can actually write on it.

INSKEEP: Oh, look at this. So I'm going to be writing on the screen using a stylus of some kind.

ARMSTRONG: Using a stylus to write your information or notes or input information. Now that's not really revolutionary. That's been around. However, it hasn't really taken off the way the industry thought it would. But then you start looking at things like eBook readers like the Sony...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

ARMSTRONG: ...and that's taking off and doing phenomenally well. What I'm showing you here is I think there's a marriage that needs to be. We're looking at two totally separate devices and people don't want to carry more devices. They want to carry less.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

ARMSTRONG: So we need a marriage. We need a go-between. We need a bridge and I think the tablet's that bridge.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask one question about the tablet? And people can't see this at home but I just want to sign my name for you, Mario. Do you think that a computer is going to be able to read that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: That's what I want to know.

ARMSTRONG: Have you ever been a doctor because that is exactly what a prescription looks like.

INSKEEP: I thought you were going to ask if I'd ever learned to write actually. So that's what I want to know. If I've got this tablet and I got this stylus and I start scribbling, is the computer going to be able to decipher that?

ARMSTRONG: So two things happen in a tablet scenario. Number one, it can capture your writing just as you do on that sheet of paper.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

ARMSTRONG: As an image.

INSKEEP: Okay.

ARMSTRONG: So it can capture that. Now, if you want it to translate what you're writing into text...

INSKEEP: So that other human beings can read it? Yes. Yes. Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: ...then we have a different problem altogether.

INSKEEP: Oh, okay.

ARMSTRONG: And I don't know that software is going to fix your issue. You might have to go back to writing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Oh, okay. So we've got that problem. Now you've also got a couple of phones here. And, of course, the iPhone is already huge. What makes you think this is a big deal for 2010? What's changing here?

ARMSTRONG: That's a great point, and what's big about that is applications, Steve. This is what everyone's talking about. My specific prediction is location-based services.

INSKEEP: Uh-huh.

ARMSTRONG: You're carrying your old cell phone with you...

INSKEEP: Yes.

ARMSTRONG: ...and maybe you want to find those nearby restaurants.

INSKEEP: Right.

ARMSTRONG: Or, take it a step further, maybe you want to find other friends of yours that are also in an existing area so you two can meet up.

INSKEEP: Okay.

ARMSTRONG: But here's one that's interesting that's running on the Droid.

INSKEEP: Okay.

ARMSTRONG: It's called ShopSavvy.

INSKEEP: All right.

ARMSTRONG: And what you do with that one is you can actually use your phone as a bar code scanner. So the idea is you could actually go to a store...

INSKEEP: And just wave the phone around?

ARMSTRONG: Wave the phone at an item...

INSKEEP: And it will tell me what it would cost to buy it somewhere else you mean?

ARMSTRONG: That's exactly right.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

ARMSTRONG: And now online as well as geographically what other places may be near you that you could find that same item cheaper or less expensive.

INSKEEP: Wow.

ARMSTRONG: So mobile applications are really going to explode.

INSKEEP: One other thing I want to ask about in 2010 is this. We're in the middle of some kind of change to health care regulations. Are people's basic medical experiences going to change because of technology in 2010?

ARMSTRONG: Absolutely and we're going to start seeing more applications and also more devices that are consumer-focused, so that you could be able to take readings or measurements or things at home and then send that via Bluetooth or through the Internet to their physician or to your doctor.

INSKEEP: So the doctor would say don't bother to come in. Just send me an e-mail with attachments?

ARMSTRONG: It might not even be an e-mail. It might even be faster than that. It might be a wireless connection that sends them instant data as you're getting your readings.

INSKEEP: And it's a program, they know what it is so they have some confidence in the results even though a nurse wasn't there shaking the thermometer.

ARMSTRONG: Correct. I mean, that's what we hope to kind of see that there is this confidence in this technology. I mean certainly, we're starting to see this already evolve. I mean, Google has a Google Health profile. So you can actually manage your online health records. Microsoft has something called the HealthVault. So this is already starting to show up where families are saying, you know, I have a parent in another city or state. I need to know all of their medications, all of their previous surgeries so if something was to happen I can forward that information to the doctor or to the hospital or to the emergency room.

INSKEEP: Very clever of Microsoft to call it the HealthVault because you know that one of the concerns that will be raised here is privacy.

ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. That's going to be a major concern. How much information is too much? How many providers will ultimately be able to get their hands on this information? And this gets into that whole area of electronic medical records in consumer applications and consumer-driven devices.

INSKEEP: Mario Armstrong is host of "Digital Cafe" on Baltimore public radio station WYPR.

Mario, thanks.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you so much, Steve.

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