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Tech Report – Smartphones lead the way

By Paul O'Reilly

Lost in the hoopla surrounding yesterday's opening day sales of the iPhone 4 was the unveiling of yet another Droid smartphone, this time from Motorola. The Android-powered Droid X follows closely on the heels of HTC's EVO 4G and boasts a 4.3-inch screen, an 8-megapixel camera, more storage capacity than a bottom-of-the-range iPad, and even has the capacity to act as a hotspot for other devices.

It used to be that the desktop manufacturers were the main drivers of technological innovation, alongside software giants like Microsoft and Oracle. But these days it's all about the smartphone, with Apple and Google locked in a death struggle for operating system supremacy, and Motorola, HTC and the rest desperately trying to one-up each other in a race to be sleeker, faster and more feature-packed.

Think of what you can now do with one of the top-of-the-range smartphones: text, send and receive e-mail, browse the web, take photos, shoot high-definition video, play games, navigate a car, download thousands of apps, and, I almost forgot, make phone calls!

Ironically, it's this last feature – making phone calls – that's likely to lead to the next revolution in cell phones and communication technology; only this time, it will be video calling. We are almost there with the iPhone 4. Its front-facing camera currently allows video conferencing with other iPhone 4 owners, and Apple and its partner AT&T expect to be able to widen the service to other handsets early next year.

While video conferencing has been around the business world for 10 years or more, it has never really caught on in the home, despite the efforts of Skype and its dedicated followers. More than anything, it's a matter of convenience, with calls needing to be prearranged and both parties required to be plugged into the same service.

Video calling is only likely to take off when making the call is as easy and convenient as a phone call is now. That means it has to be on a mobile phone and the reception and the picture quality have to be outstanding. It looks like Apple and Google are ready. They're just waiting for AT&T, Verizon and the rest of the cellular carriers to catch-up.

Like it or not, the next breakthrough in consumer technology is on-the-go video chat and, once again, it's the smartphones that are leading the charge!        

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