Published on June 27th, 2013 | by Mike J


Smartphones: The New Social Network

Nowadays, it seems everyone has a smartphone, and everyone belongs to a social network of some kind. Everyone knows about the most popular social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc. Even photo-based networks like Instagram and Pinterest have morphed into social networks with user interaction and online community involvement.

But what about smartphones? Thanks to the field of technology, mobile devices wear a myriad of hats, from GPS navigation to video streamer to barcode scanner. But the many uses of smartphones also cater to consumers’ need for communication and connection, with mobile apps that allow them to log into existing social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) with one touch, connecting them instantly with their social circles. In fact, Facebook recently released a mobile launcher that takes over your home screen, effectively transforming your phone into one big social network-inspired control panel.

The definition of “social network” is ever-changing, a dynamic model that can’t fit within a predefined set of parameters, because it depends on a concept that never stays the same. For all intents and purposes, however, a social network refers to a network of people communicating. So what about the smartphone as a social network itself? Can advanced superphones fall into the category of social networking? They support communication, networking, and interaction, and not just through their website apps. Most smartphones come equipped with factory features that cater directly to ways of communication other than phone calling or SMS messaging.

It’s an interesting concept, but consider these points:

1. Smartphones feature brand-specific mobile messaging that rewards loyal users. For example: iMessage. Users with an iPhone can message other iPhone users via the WiFi-only messaging platform exclusive to Apple devices. Essentially, this creates a social network: the “iMessage network,” if you will, consisting of people communicating via the same medium. Blackberry has BBM (Blackberry Messenger); Androids have a variety of third-party apps available for cross-platform communication, but most recently, the app MightyText was unveiled as the closest iMessage equivalent.

2. Mobile data and front-facing cameras have led to the rising trend of video communication through smartphones. High-definition screens, advanced cameras, and superior sound quality have brought iChat, Google Talk, and Skype to the small screen in big ways, allowing users to chat in live time. They can even be across the world from each other, provided they have wireless internet connection to stream their feed.

3. Voice-to-voice and push-to-talk applications harness sophisticated microphones and internal speakers to bring new communication networks to users. Voice, text, and photo messages can be sent across mobile or wireless data servers, exclusively to other users of that app. Voxer, iPTT, HeyTell, and Zello are popular programs.

4. Certain apps themselves provide in-house communities, where users engage in discussion, advice, and feedback from each other regarding the app’s uses. Weight loss and fitness tracking apps use this feature most often, where users rely on other users (sometimes exclusively on the same operating system for compatibility) for support.

These features are just an example of how smartphones cater more directly to communication and social networking – and not just through their support of apps. Perhaps instead of signing up with email and an online profile, now simply owning a smartphone grants you membership to a whole new type of social network.

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