It begins with an explanation of devices.
The most obvious one is your computer, sitting on your desk. It used to be that the computer was something you only had if you were rich and had lots of room to spare. They used to take up entire basements! When I was younger none of my friends had a computer in the house (we did but only because my dad was a computer programmer) but we did have one at school. A computer was something you shared with other people, fought over when you wanted to visit that website or chatroom. I remember when I got my first computer that was really truly mine – it was amazing! The freedom was incredible, being able to go on it 24/7 and all of my documents were saved in exactly the right way. 70% of people in the UK use a computer every day. It’s become nearly as common as what I will speak about next.
It might seem strange that I’m including this but TVs are actually becoming quite 'smart' devices, able to connect to the internet and store information. The majority of people own a television and channels often show interesting and educational shows so they can be a good source of information at times. Many people also use the television as a way to relax, although this might not be that healthy. There are companies who specialise in delivering services through TV channels, nearly like you would access a website. Looking Local are one such organisation – you can even book a doctors appointment! But to do this you have to have the right TV provider, the TV has to be connected to your phone and your local Council has to sign up to it too.
You might be wondering what I mean by smart. It’s a strange word to use to describe a TV, to describe technology. When you hear of some device being ‘smart’ most of the time this means that it is connected to something that can tell it what to do. For instance a smart washing machine can be switched on using an app on your smartphone… wherever you are!! Potentially we will have fridges that tell us when we need milk and toothbrushes that let you know when it's time to go to the dentist (also known as the Internet of Things). There are also researchers working on placing sensors around the home that can detect moods through things like how much you move around, your voice and even sensing whether you’re playing too many video games!
These are what people call ‘ubiquitous’ which is a very long and complicated word that basically means “everyone has one”. It used to be that our phone was something attached to the wall by a cord. Some of you may even remember when there were operators – people (usually women) who sat there all day every day physically moving lines around on a massive switchboard so you could call your friend in Shropshire or London. That’s right, when you picked up the phone in the old days a friendly voice would ask you where you wanted to call instead of there being a dial. Mobile phones come with us wherever we go, connecting us to people like never before.
3 in 5 of us are using a smartphone, 4 in 5 if you just consider those under the age of 55. The difference between a smartphone and a mobile phone is the 'smart' bit - it can connect to other devices. Some smartphones are even capable of having conversations with you and answering your questions, for instance Siri on the iPhone, Google Now and Cortana on Windows phones. Smartphones have replaced a lot of devices in fact and we now use them as a game machine, for emails, editing documents, taking pictures, and they are increasingly how we access the internet as well. The use of 'apps', applications that have different functions, has opened up the smartphone to become one of the most useful tools of the century.
Tablets are devices that are bigger than a smartphone but with many of the same functions - apart from the phone aspect, would be a bit strange to see people walking around with a tablet to their ear! They are touchscreen and usually come with an operating system similar to a smartphone (for instance it might run Android). Tablets and laptops have a lot in common also, although tablets do not usually come with an external keyboard (so it appears on the screen instead) and they are often not as powerful.
Of course there were some people who needed a smartphone AND a tablet – did they have to buy one of each? Nope, all they needed was a ‘phablet’, a tablet that could also make phone calls. Why lug around both? The new iPhone 6 Plus is a good example of one.
In the past few years there have been more and more of what is known as ‘connected devices’. These are devices that you can attach to your phone that make them do more. For instance there are devices that help you track your blood glucose levels. Others are attempting to create a connected device that can measure your stress levels. It has to do with a thing called cortisol that you produce in your saliva when you get stressed, the idea is you spit on this connected device and it will measure how stressed you are. Not sure if this is an entirely hygienic idea…
Connected devices use sensors that can be built into anything - jewellery and other wearable sensors, clothes, even nappies (the discontinued TweetPee). They collect data about the environment, such as temperature, as well as about what the person wearing them is doing, for instance their activity levels. It can send that data to a computer, so for instance if you wanted to track the number of steps over an entire week instead of using a pedometer and measuring them day by day you could simply attach a sensor to your shoe and look at the data on your computer at the end of the week.
The next step up is the wearable computer - not only do they collect data using sensors but they can act as a computer much as your smartphone can. These are relatively new. You may have heard about Google Glass - these, along with other smartglasses, can be worn by people and used to view a screen through as well as used to take pictures or search online. There are also smartwatches that can be used for things like checking the weather, texting or answering calls.