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Wednesday May 1, 2013

Smartphone offers help at your fingertips

A smartphone opens up a new vista of possibilities.

SENIORS, test your understanding of the following terms: Wi-Fi, data plan, USB, flash drive, WhatsApp, FB, social media, Skype, 2GB. If you have no problem, you can skip the rest of the article.

However, it’s safe to say many seniors are puzzled by such terms because they ignore the latest technological trends in the world of computing and gadgets. Change in technology occurs fast and furious, and if you fail to keep up, you will gradually be left farther and farther behind until you throw up your hands in despair at any mention of technology.

One of the best innovations in recent years is the smartphone.

In my circle of friends – ranging in ages from 60 to 70 – about 40% of them have decided to get a smartphone after succumbing to my persuasive power.

However, many still cling to their old phones. They argue that since they only use their mobile phones to make calls or send SMSes, there’s no pressing need for a smartphone. Besides, a smartphone is expensive.

I understand how they feel. Seniors are generally set in their ways, and it’s human nature to feel uncomfortable with any change to the status quo.

So, how smart is a smartphone?

Well, a smartphone is an excellent reference tool. Want to know the distance between KL and Beijing, the population of the Philippines, nutritional benefits of eating broccoli, the weather in Shanghai or whether you need a visa for Myanmar? Your smartphone will reveal all the information you need in a jiffy.

All I have to do is merely point at the word and the definition magically appears.

My encyclopaedia, dictionaries and thesaurus have been left to gather dust. They are only pressed into service when I need them as a stool to reach for books on the upper shelves of my library.

My friend Thong, 75, assumed a visa was not needed for travel to Myanmar. When he went to the airport, he and his friends were told that, in fact, it was needed. They were forced to abort the trip.

A group of friends joined a package tour to Italy, and were assured by their tour guide that winter clothing was not necessary. On arrival, it was so freezing cold that everyone made a beeline to an airport shop to snap up all the winter clothing in sight.

They could easily have been spared the headache, if they had looked up the necessary information on the smartphone.

The bulky phone directory has become a dinosaur. I don’t bother collecting it anymore. As long as you know the name of the company, your smartphone can give you the contact number. All you have to do is just tap on the “CALL” button.

But what if you don’t know the name of the establishment? Simple. Let’s say you want to book a hotel in Bangkok. You do a Google Search, type in “hotels in Bangkok”, and out pops a list of hotels.

You can then book your accommodation or send a query to the selected hotel via the Internet. Air tickets can also be booked online.

As a senior, you’re probably aware that good nutrition is vital for good health. It is so easy to check the nutritional benefits of any food item, with a quick search on the Internet, using your smartphone.

On buses and commuter trains, you would have noticed many passengers peering into their smartphones. They are merely relieving the tedium of the journey by watching YouTube clips or playing games. Routine journeys somehow seem shorter and less boring with a little distraction on your smartphone.

As seniors, it’s vital to keep our brains actively engaged to prevent it from getting rusty. Here’s where the smartphone shines as a learning tool.

My friend from Taiping learnt how to play the guitar from watching YouTube on his smartphone. And he has just bought his third guitar.

From YouTube, I’ve learned how to maintain my bicycle: change a tyre, adjust the brakes, change a brake cable and clean the chain.

I’ve also picked up a smattering of languages like Thai, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Japanese and even Tamil. Whenever I say nandri (thank you) to Tamil shopkeepers, it never fails to amuse them.

Frustrated over your repeated failure to make the perfect hard-boiled egg? Look it up on the Internet on your smartphone and amaze your family with your newfound culinary skill.

A dripping tap driving you crazy? Want to give your house a new coat of paint like a pro? Again, a quick search on your smartphone will give you the tips.

The possibilities for learning are endless.

A smartphone is excellent for keeping in touch with your loved ones. With Facebook, you and your family can post photos and messages, no matter where you are. As they say, in the era of the Internet, the world has shrunk into a global village.

As a doting grandparent, you can keep in touch with your grandchildren who are staying overseas. A software application called Skype enables you to call your grandchildren free of charge, provided both parties are connected to the Internet.

Apart from voice calls, you can also make video calls. Your grandkids can see you, and this may spark a screaming match of “Grandpa, grandpa”, and you can blow kisses or show other demonstrations of affection, like kissing the touchscreen.

These days, people seem to be absorbed in their new toy. Many walk around with wires permanently stuck to their ears, listening to their favourite music.

The smartphone is also an entertainment tool par excellence. You can listen to radio stations from all over the world. You have a mind-boggling choice, ranging from classics to pop, gospel songs, jazz and reggae music.

When you go on vacation, you can bring along all your collections of Elvis Presley, western music, the Beatles, and golden oldies, and listen to them on the tour bus.

Seniors are frugal by nature. Most prefer to send SMSes rather than make expensive voice calls. This is where the wildly popular app (application) called WhatsApp comes to the rescue. It works exactly like your normal SMS on your ordinary phone but the difference is that with WhatsApp, you can send unlimited SMSes/video clips.

If you are overseas, as long as you are on Wi-Fi, you can do the same. And it’s all free.

Imagine sending pictures/videos of yourself to your grandchildren, showing your head inside a crocodile’s mouth or paragliding in Nepal. You’d have bragging rights for the rest of your life, and most importantly, you have the evidence.

All this for only a one-time payment equivalent to a cup of coffee (depending on which telco you sign up with, it may even be free).

This is by no means an exhaustive description of how useful and practical the smartphone can be. I don’t wish to spoil your fun of discovering new things.

A smartphone opens a whole new vista for you. I’m now into my third smartphone. Basically, you have a computer in the palm of your hand and a personal assistant to boot.

As a Taiping friend is fond of saying: “What more do you want?”

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