Just when did my cellphone get so ambitious--and is there any stopping it?
(FORTUNE Small Business) – Frankly, I'm peeved at my cellphone. No, it's not that I still have any problem with how well, or where, it is willing to transmit my voice. But maybe because I caved in on that issue--I let it decide on a caller-by-caller basis where the dead zones should be--my cell has gotten awfully uppity. Now that it has been fitted with a fancy color display, it wants to snap pictures everywhere we go. And thanks to its newly implanted GPS chip, it always insists on reminding me exactly where we are. Unfamiliar city? No problem--my holstered handheld will host a tour, complete with blaring audio clips. Pretty soon, if manufacturers have their way, my phone will channel satellite radio, scan documents, and shuffle through my electronic phone book, deciding which friend I should call and apologize to. Any day now I expect it to interrupt my lame attempt at exercise--that annual quarter-mile marathon I still insist on doing--with information about where I can find the nearest defibrillator.
I liked it better when the cellphone was my accessory to misuse as I pleased. I twisted in my ear buds, leaving my hands free to point to them in case anyone tried to engage me in meaningful toe-to-toe dialogue. Sure, I faked cell conversations. But how else was I going to avoid all those street people asking me for donations? I paced the aisles of the local 7-Eleven, allegedly closing a megadeal while poking around for a celebratory tube of turkey jerky. On the bus I sat (alone) and sampled every ringtone. My cellphone was always there to protect me, except for that brief period after I dropped it in a urinal.
Now it is poised to turn against me, with cellphone makers piling on so many capabilities that I'm beginning to feel that my possession is determined to outgrow me. "Silicon Valley is trying to cram an entire PC on a headset," says Trip Hawkins, 51, best known as the founder of videogame giant Electronic Arts. His newest company, Digital Chocolate, in San Mateo, Calif., makes games for mobile phones. "With the conversion to digital, mobile phones have turned into accidental computers, which opens up all kinds of markets," adds Hawkins, who also warns me, "I'm in my car, going downhill, and we may briefly get cut off." We do.
David Solomont's New York City-based startup, Candide Media, provides cell-accessible tours of 18 cities under the brand name Talking Streets. "I've immersed myself in all the cellphone's capabilities," says the 53-year-old. "And I can't begin to understand...." He gets cut off, mercifully, in mid-sentence--the kind of interruption that in predigital days would have been foreshadowed by so much annoying static. Ah, progress.
Solomont didn't have to call me back to tell me what he was really talking about: convergence. I remember when it happened right in my own home to my TV; I was supposed to be able to surf the web on the tube or design an aircraft while comfortably nestled in the living-room love seat. Thankfully nothing much came to pass, although I did mysteriously start receiving Spike TV. Personally I prefer appliances--a car, for example, or a refrigerator--that don't ferociously compete with one another and are satisfied being experts in their functional areas. What I really wouldn't mind having is a "voice" phone that never streams highlights of The OC, or text-messages me horoscopes, or Tasers anyone who comes within 25 feet. What I need is an adult version of the Firefly phone, that new cell for tweens that only has buttons for speed-dialing MOM and DAD and other pre-selected allies. I'm fairly certain I could press OFFICE without consulting the fat manual more than a couple of times.