Beam me up, Scotty — before he could utter those immortal words, Captain James T Kirk first had to pull a small device called a ‘communicator’ from his pocket. He’d flip it open, it would chirrup, and communication was established.
In the 1960’s when the Star Trek TV show was created, such a device was the stuff of wildest dreams. Now, in 2008, we wonder why the only thing the ‘communicator’ could do was make what amounted to phonecalls.
Almost everyone now carries a ‘communicator’: a tiny cellphone and/or a tiny MP3 music player. Their capabilities are amazing: phones take photos and MP3 players play videos; keep address books and calendars on both, or either. Price, brand and model affect exactly what features are crammed into each minuscule package.
The iPod touch
You may have heard of the iPod — it’s an MP3 music player. Buy songs or download podcasts from the iTunes Store, plug in your iPod so the tracks are transferred and then listen on the go.
In countries where it’s legal (and New Zealand isn’t one of them — see the footnote), you may also copy music CDs to your computer and transfer those tracks to your iPod. (Of course, since it’s illegal here no-one does that! [wipes tears of laughter from eyes])
An iPod touch fits in your pocket, clips on your belt or slips into a small bag. It weighs only 120 grams, so it’s the kind of thing anyone can easily carry with them all the time, unlike a laptop computer.
Although it’s not a phone, the iPod touch is the first MP3 player to join the wireless-enabled Internet club. It has a comparatively large touch-sensitive screen and uses a real web browser. It’s a slim, lightweight handheld Internet device without the costs of a calling plan or prepaid card.
Where you can connect to a wireless network you can use an iPod touch to check email and RSS feeds, browse web pages, Twitter, Facebook and pretty much anything else on the Internet, along with accessing YouTube and the iTunes Store with all its podcasts. Oh, and don’t forget Google Maps that can not only show you where a location is and how it looks, but also give you turn by turn driving directions.
Smart phones such as the incredibly popular touch-screen iPhone (not yet officially available in NZ, but already in widespread use) and Pocket PCs such as the Nokia N95, Treo, Blackberry and others may cost upwards of $750, but they are tiny, capable, popular and very well connected.
Such ‘smart’ devices include access to web, email, documents, RSS newsfeeds, Twitter, Google maps, calendars, address books, weather reports, YouTube and other Internet-enabled services. And some of them include wireless access to the Internet. Many or most include cameras. Oh, and you can make phonecalls on them too.
We’re connected as never before
These smart devices change how we interact with the world — people use them, all the time, all over the place to stay connected. Think Star Trek communicator, only much more powerful.
While the phones generally connect via the usual phone channels, the iPod touch can hook in to any open wireless network, or any closed network for which you have the login information.
Paid wireless networks are available through Cafenet in Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Hawkes Bay, Palmerston North, Wairarapa, Greytown, Wellington, Porirua and Hutt Valley.
Many coffee shops, campuses, businesses, events and even individuals are providing wireless networks too, sometimes free of charge.
Or just hang out near student accommodation, office blocks and residential suburbs and the chances are you’ll find an open and unsecured wireless network you can hook into to check your emails or the weather forecast.
Is it legal, to free ride on someone else’s connection? Is it moral or ethical? There’s plenty of debate around these issues, with strong opinions on both sides. It’s not clear though if there is any actual law on the matter, and you must decide the morals and ethics for yourself.
With TheFreeNet — Aotearoa people are donating spare bandwidth via inexpensive Meraki devices to make wi-fi freely available at no charge to the public.
Take some precautions
Be careful about information you send through any public wireless network though, in case someone is capturing your data, such as credit card details or login passwords.
See an article by Glenn Fleishman for more information about wireless security when using devices such as the iPhone and iPod touch.
What’s in it for you?
Smart phones, the iPhone and the iPod touch transform connectedness in our world. Take a look at what they can do for your relationships with clients, friends, family, stakeholders and others.
Hon JUDITH TIZARD (Associate Minister of Commerce):
Format shifting is a term used to describe the practice of copying the sound recording from one format to another, for example from a CD to a portable MP3 player. Today the popularity of MP3 players, iPods, and other portable digital music players means that people want to transfer music, which they have legitimately bought, on to these devices to take advantage of the new technology or to enjoy music in different places. Yet, despite the fact that this activity is common practice, it is an infringement under the Copyright Act–a fact that most music lovers do not know. This makes otherwise law-abiding New Zealanders into unintentional lawbreakers
Written for and based on an article written for CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, February 2008. This article has substantial differences from the original.