Thursday, April 30, 2009
Calling all farmers: Your smart phone is ringing
Last summer, an enthusiastic fellow from the East Coast was trying to show me some of the new features on his iPhone. Problem was he couldn’t get a signal from the carrier, AT&T--right here in the middle of Des Moines, Iowa.
It was pretty plain that your phone is only as smart as its connectivity. Issues like pricing and customer service are key, too, but meaningless if you’re sitting it a dead spot.
Farmers and ranchers know about dead spots in broadband coverage. There has been a long-standing digital divide between urban and rural America.
The recent good news is that companies like Apple and Verizon are moving to boost coverage and features that will make smart phones more available and useful in the country.
In early April, Verizon Wireless announced it will launch a new 4G wireless broadband network that eventually will extend across rural America.
And, this week Verizon Wireless and Apple were reported to be in discussions about a partnership to sell a new iPhone, one that would work on the Verizon network, and thus offer expanded connectivity out in the country.
If the deal is realized and the network pans out, it could be a big step for agriculture, says Michael Lewis, a central Iowa farmer and computer systems operator.
Lewis sees smart phones as the wave of the future for farm communications, with potential for housing a wide range of ag applications, including GPS, real time soil sampling and mapping, instant fertilizer analysis, chemical and seed quick conversions, weed identification, a farmer knowledge base, and more.
Currently, he uses his phone to access weather, news, sports, maps, weather, stock reports and special farm-related applications.
For the time being, if Verizon is your best carrier, a Blackberry is your best choice of smart phone, he says. He points out, too, that Windows embedded has "a huge presence in agriculture equipment and devices, so a Windows Mobile phone might seem like a logical choice because of familiarity."
But a Verizon-iPhone deal could be a game changer.
“For sure the iPhone is the best smart phone out there,” he says. “If you have AT&T service in your area then it would be the one for you [now].”
Lewis prefers the the iPhone for its user interface, ease of application development, and application delivery through the Apple store. Apple claims that more than 25,000 apps now exist for the iPhone 3G.
"As more applications are developed for the the iphone, I see an increase in the amount of accessories and interfaces between Windows embedded devices and smart phones like the iPhone," he says.
Beyond the connectivity questions, the biggest issue with smart phones is their durability for farm use, Lewis says. He recommends a product called Invisible Shield.
“It really protects the device well and is very affordable. The material is the same that is used on helicopter blades.”
Posted by John Walter at 8:29 AM