In the early 90s, you could patent anything if you took an existing product and appended, “…but on a computer.” By the late 90s, you could sell anything to the public at large, claiming that it was a disruptive business that would change the way every human on the planet did the thing they’ve been doing for hundreds of years by pitching it as doing the thing, “…but on the Internet.” By early in 2001, just about everyone had finally figured out that that was wrong.
Today, it seems that the answer is to do the thing, “…on a phone.” Never mind that photography is a skill and so is music production; the thing that every smartphone tries to be is the best ever digital camera and recording studio. If you are not a creative genius but only barely competent, adding an extra gigapixel and some really clever digital signal processing to your phone will not materially affect your photos or recordings. And yet, that’s the platform that’s got everyone excited. It’s ubiquitous.
I’m really just grumpy because all the hubbub is about solving problems I don’t have. I suck at photography, so I don’t actually care about the very latest camera on the very latest phone. I guess if there were other sensors that were useful to me, I might care more. Like what? I dunno. Maybe…soil acidity? Temperature probes? I mean, it’s kind of useful being able to use my phone as a level and a compass, but honestly a spirit level is way cheaper and more durable, as well as easier to use. A measuring tape is more reliable, cheaper, and unlikely to break if I drop it. External sensors are cool, but honestly, going around my house and garden, what measurements do I want to take on an ongoing basis? I…don’t.
Because here’s a thing: unless you use the collected measurements to inform some decision, to take some action, then they’re not actually data. They’re just junk, piling up and taking your attention. So I don’t even know. I feel like the computational power of a phone, and the capabilities of its standard sensors, are just really amazing solutions that are in search of a problem. Absent the problem, they’re just feature checkboxes.