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Smartphone revolution offers challenges and opportunities

By now it is common knowledge that the Internet has presented an existential challenge to written mail — with stamps and paper and stuff if you have already forgotten — as a means of communication. The identity of the next possible victim, however, might come as a surprise to some.

According to a recent survey by the UK Office of Communication, text messaging is more popular than telephoning among people under 24 compared in Great Britain. People have spent less time talking on their phones in the UK this year compared to 2011. It is ironic that in the age of cellphones, phoning itself might be the next endangered species. But it is not hard to imagine.

It is quite common to see people walking in the streets of Taiwan with their heads lowered and their eyes fixated on smartphone screens; however, they are more likely seen to be watching videos, playing games, firing off texts, chatting over instant messenger applications, and of course, checking their Facebook pages rather than actually calling people up. People who sneer at the nomenclature of “smartphones” might be right, but perhaps for the wrong reasons: the smart part is adequate enough — it's the phone part that is misleading.

The reasons behind the rise of texting among the young are many. First of all, it is less expensive. Young people generally earn less than adults. Texting became popular in mainland China long before the rise of smartphones, mainly due to young Chinese people's need for a cheap way to communicate.

The creative possibilities enabled by text-based communication (e.g. emoticons), the multimedia adaptability of smartphone text messages, and the sense of continuity and chat-room-like spontaneity of group text message threads in instant messaging apps also make texting a natural choice. To give an example, it is often more convenient to discuss outing schedules with friends via online chatrooms than by calling potential participants one by one.

The advances of mobile technology have changed the way we lead our lives. Crowded cities used to represent a minus for quality of life. In the age of user-provided content and services provided by apps, however, a higher population density can also lead to a more convenient lifestyle via smartphones. Thanks to GPS-enabled apps, smartphone users can now call taxis without the trouble of describing their whereabouts. In some U.S. cities, people get all kinds of services — such as home cleaning and car washing — through specialized apps. As the saying goes, there is an app for everything — as long as there is a large enough user/content-provider base to support it.

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