Our love affair with smartphones is still growing

My first cell phone made phone calls. And that’s it. There was nothing smart about it. In fact, when you left the digital network urban areas, you had to insert an extra adapter so it would continue to work in then-still analog rural Ontario.

The ups and recently mostly downs of homegrown mobile device pioneer Research in Motion has made me think lately about how mobile technology has changed in the eight years since I got my first Blackberry, colourless screen, track wheel and all.

I’m also currently getting ready to go to Argentina and Uruguay for a conference of international agricultural journalists and part of my preparation is trying to figure out what plugs and adapters I might need to keep my devices powered.

I tried to remember how I had dealt with that the last time I went to South America, which was in 2005 when I was part of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program’s Class 10 international study tour.

But then I realized that back then I didn’t – because on that trip I didn’t travel with a single electronic device that needed charging. Nowadays, I wouldn’t dream of going on a trip without at least a smartphone and probably also either a tablet or small laptop. How times have changed.

Smartphones in particular are becoming increasingly integrated into our daily lives. In fact, according to a study released at the end of July by Google, Canadians’ love affair with smartphones shows no sign of abating.

Fifty-six per cent of Canadian adults are now smartphone users, compared to only 33 per cent in early 2012, and 80 per cent of smartphone owners indicated they wouldn’t leave home without it. In fact, 35 per cent of respondents have become so dependent on their smartphones that they’d rather give up TV than their cherished devices.

Apps – specialized applications developed for smartphones and tablets – abound for everything from social media, commodity trading and weed/pest identification to travel bookings, banking, gaming and more. According to the Google report, the average smartphone user has 30 apps installed on their device and had used an average of 12 in the past month.

A friend of ours, for example, monitors the security cameras at his car wash from his iPhone. A commercial currently airing on television shows a mom paying the babysitter by sending her money via her banking app. An Edmonton café has just announced that it will now accept payment in the form of Bitcoin, a cyber-currency that is exchanged electronically via smartphones.

My parents just became first-time grandparents and even though they live about 6,000 kilometres away from their new grandson, they can experience much more of his first few days and weeks on this earth thanks to the convenience of mobile devices than they would have otherwise been able to.

Smartphone use is definitely also growing in agriculture, in fact outpacing Canadians’ use over all. Farmers use apps and devices to collect in-the-field or in-the barn data and upload it to their farm or home computers and check everything from the weather to the markets while they’re on the go, for example.

A study released earlier this year, completed by Ipsos for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, showed 69 per cent of farmers reported having a smartphone – compared to 56 per cent of Canadians overall as mentioned above.

Approximately half of the farmer respondents in the Ipsos survey said their device is essential to how they do business. The three most popular tools are email, messaging and access to the internet, with the most commonly used apps focusing on weather, market prices and financial tools.

Things sure have changed in the last eight years when it comes to mobile technology – I wonder what the next eight will bring.

Note: this commentary was first printed in the Ontario Farmer, Aug 27 2013 edition.

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