How smart is your cell phone?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 19, 2008

NATCHEZ — Forget what time your meeting with that big client is?

Failed to pick up the budget spreadsheet before leaving on that business trip?

Forget the lyrics to that new song you’re singing?

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Don’t fret. Just pick up your cell phone.

Not to make a call but to retrieve the information you’re seeking.

Technology used on today’s cell phones has advanced in a way that is making the need for other devices obsolete.

“A lot of what is being called a ‘smart phone’ offers mobile office,” said Jerod Welch, owner of Cellular Plus in Natchez. “You cannot just receive and open a word document or spreadsheet, you can actually edit them and send them back.

“(Smart phones) have almost eliminated the need for a laptop.”

Allen Richard, IT manager at Callon Petroleum, said his use of a BlackBerry was born out of necessity.

“Basically, the CEO at Callon wanted to use a BlackBerry so we got them to be able to provide (tech) support for him.”

Richard said he uses his BlackBerry to be in almost constant contact with other employees.

“Right now my boss is on vacation but he is still answering e-mails over his BlackBerry,” Richard said. “You never really can get away.”

When Welch opened his store just five years ago the “coolest” feature on phones was a color screen.

“I never would have thought it would have advanced this much in this little time,” Welch said.

But it isn’t just business types that are hitting the stores for the latest and greatest in technology. Advances in music technology draws in the younger generations.

While many of today’s phones have built in MP3 players for listening to tunes, others have the ability to access satellite radio and turn-by-turn navigation systems.

Richard said it is important, before purchase a phone, to figure out exactly what you want.

“Some have better cameras, some are better at texting and some are better at e-mail,” Richard said. “But the industry is starting to combine features and provide them on many different phones.

“It is becoming a bit of a melting pot.”

Welch said a customer seeking the best in cell phone technology is typically in the 40-and-under age bracket, but many of his customers over that age are drawn to the technology once he tells them what is available.

“The younger generation comes in and knows what is out there so they know what they want,” Welch said. “But once I start telling other customers what all these phones can do, they may think ‘Hey, I want one with an MP3 player because I walk every morning.”

While the attraction of such savvy phones is high, figuring out how to access all the features can be a bit of a maze.

“The biggest thing is making sure the customers know what they’ve got before they walk out of the store,” Welch said. “But we do have some people that will call back and ask how to do certain things, and we always try to help.”

Richard is hoping to navigate that maze during his “Unlocking your BlackBerry” class at Co-Lin Natchez in November.

“A lot of people will buy these phones because of the cool factor or their business will give it to them, and then they won’t have any idea of how to use them,” Richard said. “Going through the process of actually setting them up is fairly daunting.

“I’m hoping to make them more user friendly.”

As far as the future of cell phone technology goes, Welch said the best thing to do is look to Europe.

“The next big thing is video streaming where you can actually see on your screen the person you are talking to,” Welch said. “It is all over Europe.”

But as far as advances after that Welch can’t even fathom an answer.

“I never would have thought we would be here so who knows where we will go next.”

But not matter what the next advance is; Richard is sure of one thing. The demand will be high.

“Profit is what is driving the technology, but there is profit because people want the features,” he said. “Technology is cool so having a cool phone is a big deal.”