Andy Rubin asks: Should smartphones be assistants or tools?

Oct 20, 2011
Andy Rubin asks: Should smartphones be assistants or tools?

We're right in the midst of a possible rift in the way smart devices function and act, ladies and gentlemen, and though the functionality has been there for some time, it is Apple that's brought the idea that the smartphone should be your assistant rather than just your tool for communicating to the forefront. I'd like to concentrate today on a statement made by Andy Rubin (SVP of Google) this week at AllThingsD's AsiaD conference, he here asking (or telling, rather) whether or not it makes sense for a system like Siri, currently planted on the iPhone 4S, to turn your smart device into a personal assistant rather than just allowing the device to act as a tool for communication. I invite you, the reader and the user, to lay down your opinions as well.

This week at AsiaD, Andy Rubin spoke highly of both the iPhone and future Windows Phones by saying "Apple is a good competitor, but a different one. Both [an iPhone and a Windows phone] are going to feel very good in your hand and both going to look very beautiful physically…" This statement written up by Daily Tech and the following statement written up by Ina Fried of AllThingsD. Certainly nice words from the leader of the main competition for both of those platforms. The real bomb came later when Rubin spoke on the nature of the smartphone:

"I don’t believe that your phone should be an assistant. Your phone is a tool for communicating. You shouldn’t be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone. … To some degree it is natural for you to talk to your phone. We’ll see how pervasive it gets. … This isn't a new notion. In projecting the future, I think Apple did a good job of figuring out when the technology was ready to be consumer-grade.” -- Andy Rubin of Google at AsiaD, October 19, 2011

What do you think? If you ask me, I'm in agreement with Rubin on the idea that the device should be a tool, not a replacement for a human assistant, a tool for communicating with people, entertaining ones self with media, and presenting media to your colleagues. Of course therein lies the specific nature of the situation -- isn't that allowing the device to act as your assistant again?

Without a doubt, this question is more about defining the functions of a smartphone than it is deciding how a smartphone should act. Smart devices have been changing the lives of millions of people across the earth now for several years - does it really matter what we call them? You decide!

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