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The real value of smartphones

By Jean-Claude Elias - Jan 16,2014 - Last updated at Jan 16,2014

You cherish your smartphone and try to take good care of it for fear of damaging it or losing it. But do you fully realise what it is worth for you, what it represents? What would be the actual cost, the extent of the damage you would truly sustain in case of the unthinkable happening? You probably have no idea until you really experience the loss. Just ask those who went through it. In any case the value is definitely much higher than the price you paid to buy it in the first place. To date, this was relatively good news. There’s worse and it’s coming fast.

Smartphone-based payment systems and personal identification are two aspects that are going to make things significantly more worrying than they already are. Everything indicates the world of IT is going in this direction, irremediably.

It’s plain to see. The more you do with a given device the greater the loss when it is taken from you. The fact that the device is small and light increases the risk.We trust smartphones now to hold more precious and more personal information than laptops, but because they are easy to steal and hack, they represent the highest risk for data, sensitive information, money, identity, access codes, passwords etc.

High-end models are fitted with fast processors that rival or beat laptops we used to have only three to five years ago. I ran a test. I saved 5,000 high resolution pictures on the 64GB microSD memory card of a smartphone. The total size was 20GB. I thought that the machine would fight hard to display the contents and might choke on the job, but it did it brilliantly. It just took a couple of minutes at the beginning to build the thumbprints and then it went very fast displaying the photos. If this is not a powerful pocket computer then what is?

The much debated virtual bitcoin web currency, and against all odds, seems to find non-negligible support here and there. In some avant-garde cafés and restaurants in the US and Western Europe people are already paying in bitcoin by using their smartphones and the now widely available QR code (Quick Response) scanners and readers. There is little doubt that the devices are going to replace traditional credit cards as well. Losing your cellphone therefore would be tantamount to losing all your credit and ATM cards at one time. Doesn’t it send shivers down your spine?

And if your device is also going to help to identify you instead of an ID card or a passport then the highest level or risk would be reached.

With a large number of sensitive information and systems in a smartphone, breaking or damaging it would be nothing compared to if it was taken from you, especially if you happen to have a good backup of its contents.

Just like the population learned how to adapt and to better life with personal computers (an old expression, pardon me) in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there’s a modus vivendi that still has to be found and defined about living with smartphones.

The time has long gone when users would complain about having to learn new operating systems like Windows Mobile, Apple’s iOS or Android, about how to use this or that feature and to adapt to the then new touch-screen world and all its idiosyncrasies. The difficulty now is elsewhere; essentially it’s about smartphone security, a topic noticeably harder to handle than “standard” computer security, understand that of large, non-mobile machines.

The industry gurus must find a way to protect users from vulnerable smartphone-based payment systems. Chances are that they will eventually. As for the protection of personal identification, the solution exists already, it’s the fool proof, highly secure, impossible-to-break iris scan technology. Rumours — serious ones, of course — have it that the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S5 announced for April-May this year might have iris scan recognition built-in. I have been aware of the technology since 2006 and somewhat involved in it since 2008. I can’t wait to see it implemented in a smartphone. Iris scan recognition and identification gets rid of passwords, credit cards, ATM cards, and other less-then-perfect, “hackable” methods.

As for the trivial, like keeping an eye on your smartphone, not leaving it unattended in public places and so forth, it will become even more critical than it is now, given the magnitude of the loss you may be subjected to.

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