iPhone to Verizon: Can you hear me now?

The wireless company's growth slows; mainly because everyone wants the iPhone and its magical app wonderland

By Andrew Leonard

Published October 26, 2009 9:01PM (EDT)

Ask, and you shall receive.

In the very early days of this blog, some three and half years ago, I expressed a desire for a kind of reverse-panopticon device, a way for us to coopt the technologies of surveillance and identification, so well symbolized by RFID microchips, as tools for liberty and enlightenment rather than oppression.

I wrote:

I want to wave my cellphone at a shirt hanging on the rack at H&M or a DVD player on the shelf at Best Buy or a carton of strawberries at the Berkeley Bowl, and have the RFID chip tell me everything I want to know about that product.

I mean everything. Not just all of its ingredients and every possible kind of health-related danger its consumption might pose. I also want a breakdown of the transnational production system that produced it, down to which semiconductor came from which province of which country. I want to know how much of it was produced in an environmentally sustainable manner. I want to know the wages and benefits and union status of the workers who built it or the farm laborers who picked it. I want the full scoop.

Back then, I called my dream a science-fiction fantasy. But today, after following a tweet from Glyn Moody, I'm thinking this future will be arriving much sooner than I expected, at least as promised by an upcoming "food traceability" app for the iPhone created by IBM.

From Richard Macmanus at ReadWriteWeb:

The as yet unreleased iPhone app is called Breadcrumbs and it will give consumers access to information about grocery food items. The app will be able to scan bar codes and deliver a summary of the ingredients in a food item, along with when it was manufactured. That data is usually on the food label, but Breadcrumbs goes a step further -- it can provide extra information such as product recall data. If a product has been recalled in the past, this app will tell the consumer all of the relevant details.

Certainly -- product recall info and ingredients are only a small piece of my fantasy, but once these databases start getting built and linked together, there will be no limits to what we can learn from a quick barcode scan.

Moments after mulling over the iPhone-as-all-purpose-info-device implications of Breadcrumbs, an e-mail arrived in my inbox with the headline, "Alice in Chains to release iPhone App Oct. 27." Personally I could not be less interested in whatever Alice in Chains is up to musically, but if one reads the press release closely it seems pretty clear that move represents the latest attempt by the recording industry to figure out a distribution model for music that actually works. And I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of it.

Any well-designed smartphone will be able to accomplish the same tasks as an iPhone, but right now, Apple's device has the critical mass and enjoys the attention and focus of developers. The iPhone, in other words, is the great enabler, breaking old paradigms apart and catalyzing the creation of all kinds of things that seemed like Star Trek magic just a few years ago.

The fate of vast telecommunication companies hangs in the balance. Also today: Verizon reported its third quarter earnings. The key factoid: Verizon's wireless subscriber growth has slowed way down -- specifically, reports the Wall Street Journal, because Verizon's main competitor, AT&T, is reeling in so many new subscribers who absolutely, positively must have a new iPhone.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Apple How The World Works Iphone Smart Phones Wireless