Are smartphones making inroads into the laboratory?


Mobile computing platforms such as the iPhone are beginning to make inroads into the laboratory—serious prospect or fairy tale? So asks Nature Methods (7, 87; 2010), starting its February Editorial in traditional genre style: “Once upon a time phones were used exclusively for conversing with other people, and computers ran software applications. The computer became an indispensable tool in the laboratory while the phone developed into a mobile device that has disrupted countless lectures at scientific conferences. But recently researchers can be seen talking on their computer and using their cell phone for running fancy—and sometimes powerful—software programs.

This metamorphosis of the cell phone into a mobile computing platform with voice capabilities is epitomized by the iPhone—one of a new breed of smartphone that is not only popular among the general public but seemingly ubiquitous among scientists. Earlier phones had similar capabilities, but the arrival of the ”“>Apple App Store in 2008 provided a dizzying array of software applications, or apps, that could be installed at a touch of the screen. Stanford University even offers a free course on developing iPhone apps.”

The Editorial goes on to debate whether such devices will be useful in wet-lab procedures, speculating on a few possible “killer apps” that would stimulate general adoption. Even so, says Nature Methods, for the present, the most immediate potential for these devices is in providing a painless way for researchers to keep up with their reading wherever they happen to be. Mass media publishers have embraced the iPhone for delivering their content, but there has been little activity in the scientific publishing arena—RSS news feeds notwithstanding. But the situation is changing." Several publishers, including Nature Publishing Group, have apps that will go live any day. The just-released app lets you read full-text articles, view full-size figures and save references. This Nascent post highlights some of the features and describes how to use them.

The Nature Methods editors welcome comments at Methagora, the journal’s blog – where there is a set of links to various iPhone applications for scientists. Does your iPhone or other smartphone have a place in the lab? What is the must-have app you are looking for?

Download the iPhone application.


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