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iPhone, Pre or netbook? One device to rule them all

PhoneSo Apple's latest iPhone walks among us and, as a plethora of Android mobiles prepare for launch, the Palm Pre looks like it could be the iPhone killer that's actually worth considering.

Sexy, new, bright and shiny things are, of course, a good thing. But beyond fun and fashion, do smartphones matter?

Perhaps.

While surfers in far-flung corners of the globe bathe in superfast fibre-optic internet, the UK is the sick man of the cyber Premier League. No fewer than three million British homes cannot get even a paltry 2Mbps broadband connection, and 30 percent of adults don't have home web connectivity: primarily because they feel they can't afford it.

Whether this bothers you or not - and according to a recent survey 73 percent of you think broadband is 'as essential as water' - fear of digital exclusion is something that exercises government and business alike. If we're relying on wire coat hangers and string, they say, how can we hope to compete with the burgeoning economies of the east?

Trouble is, it won't change anytime soon. To upgrade our wheezing copper-pipe infrastructure will require digging lots of holes and doling out lots of cash. Are you prepared to pay for it? No? Neither is BT - justifiably concerned about its bottom line. And while Virgin Media is about to extend its cable network, it'll put its cables where it jolly well likes, thank you. (Subject to making a profit.)

(Placing money-making businesses in charge of digital infrastructure is plain dumb. It's like asking a profit-making organisation to run the railways, and no one would be stupid enough to do that, would they?)

Before the internet, there were canals (bear with me). If industry needed faster communication, hills were destroyed, navvies deployed and all manner of expense hung: the fastest pipe between two points would be built, by hook or by crook. Standing in the way of progress was not an option in them days.

For better or worse (better), those days are gone. We're all way too aware of our nimby rights and environmental responsibilities to put up with the cost and disruption. We're just not good at implementing Big Ideas. And even if we did spend years upgrading the telco network to fat fibre-optic cabling, by the time it was done and paid for we'd only need to upgrade again.

No, the answer to the connectivity question lies in the air. Superfast, ubiquitous mobile internet. And the government knows this: hence the UK digital TV switch-off, aimed at freeing up bandwidth so that 99 percent of the population can get decent internet.

Right now mobile internet is nowhere near where it needs to be, with users getting no better than 1Mbps connectivity. Even the best phones have nothing like the functionality required.

A new mobile phone is not, of itself, all that important. But a device that combines the functionality of a netbook with the form factor and connectivity of a phone would be, as they say, 'disruptive'.

Indeed, in a mobile internet world, a MacBook Air/iPhone combo could be the one device to rule them all.

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