30 days to the digital transition: The miracle smartphone

In my last post, I posited that Twitter might be the shortcut to the digital transition that we’ve been searching for.

Now, I’d like to make the case that the new generation of smartphones, especially the iPhone 4 and 4s, may be the only hardware we need for field reporting.

AME/Metro Lee Williams checks out the high-tech iPhone tripod solution on the left (the Joby GorillaMobile) and the low-tech version made with clips and a card on the right. Photo and Rube Goldberg tripod by David Kent.

In my six years working for the Star-Telegram’s digital operations, I have learned to use at least nine cameras and/or camcorders, plus three digital voice recorders. And Windows computers. And Apple computers. And iPads. And Android tablets. And so on.

And I’ve put many of my eager colleagues through that hell along the way.

But in midsummer 2011, I bought an iPhone 4. And I realized that I was holding a simple yet high-quality device that would allow us finally to spend more time creating content than we do learning technology.

With the iPhone 4 and its newer sibling, the 4s, journalists can shoot good-enough video and photos, can record decent audio, can access high-quality productivity apps, can stream live video, can keep in touch with the office through video chat, IMs or text, and can even attach a Bluetooth keyboard and write an entire story in a pinch.

Many of the newer Android-based phones can do much of this, too, of course, although not always in a predictable way.

We recently began a reimbursement program designed to defray much of the cost of a smartphone for reporters, photographers and editors. That means there’s no longer any real excuse not to buy and learn to maximize a high-end phone.

With all this in mind, let’s look at step two of my 30-day plan to help us all make the digital transition:

Your smartphone is the only digital media tool you really need.

Day 11: Download the Star-Telegram app (iPhone/Android) or bookmark m.star-telegram.com. Spend 10 minutes with our mobile site when you wake up and again right before bed. Notice how the content has (or hasn’t, and should have) changed. (Extra credit: Try both the app and the mobile site. Ask us questions about what you see.)

Day 12: Take a few photos. Admire them. Show your friends. (We’ll come back to this one.)

Day 13: Type some notes into a simple text editor (The Notes app comes on your iPhone/download AK Notepad on Android). Email them to yourself. (Extra credit: If you have an iPhone 3GS or later, hook up a Bluetooth keyboard and type your notes that way. I have a keyboard you can play with.)

Day 14: Record a short audio clip using the Voice Memos app that comes on your iPhone or the Voice Recorder app downloaded from the Android Market. Email it to yourself and download to your desktop. Check the size of the file, and the format (or extension).

Day 15: Download the Typepad blogging app for iPhone or browse to the m.typepad.com mobile site on Android. Sign in with the Star-Telegram credentials. Look around at how you set a default blog, make a new post, edit a post and look at the live blog.

Day 16: If you haven’t already, download the Facebook app (iPhone/Android) and a Twitter app (iPhone/Android) and vow to use only the apps — not your computer — to access both sites all day.

Day 17: Take more photos. This time, concentrate on quality — hold the phone VERY still, hold it horizontally, don’t use the zoom, and pay attention to your light source. Download Adobe Photoshop Express (iPhone/Android) and use it to crop and adjust your photo. (You can also crop using the built-in editor in the iPhone’s Photos app.) Then, email the finished photo to yourself. (Extra credit: Get feedback from the photo desk. They are very patient.)

Day 18: Try the video camera. Check out tips here. Edit your video on the phone — for iPhone, iMovie is your best option; Reel Director is cheaper; or just try the simple trim editor built into the phone. For Android phones, try the free version of VidTrim Video Editor.

Day 19: Set up a YouTube account and upload your video. Ask us questions about things you encounter during the process. Tip: Keep video clips short, and find WiFi for uploading.

Day 20: Download an instant messaging app (I suggest Meebo for iPhone and Meebo or Google Talk for Android), sign into Google Talk with your Star-Telegram credentials, and exchange IMs with a colleague.

Now that you’re 10 days down the road toward a smartphone habit, pat yourself on the back and play Angry Birds.

Next: Step 3. If you’re not blogging, you should be.

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