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Has the iPhone Become Big Brother Plus Terminator?

In “The Terminator” film series, mankind brought a nuclear Armageddon upon itself when it created Skynet, an artificial intelligence service that became self-aware and rebelled against its creators. In essence, the population became too dependent on technology—and paid the price.

Apple's iPhone 3Gs
Jack Guez | AFP | Getty Images
Apple's iPhone 3Gs

While the Apple iPhone hasn’t shown any Schwarzenegger-like tendencies quite yet, it’s pretty astonishing just how quickly its users have grown to rely on the phones—and how much control they have given it (along with the iPod Touch and iPad) over their day to day lives.

While games like Angry Birds and music streaming services like Pandora might be the most popular apps, there are a flood of others that give iDevices control over many products that are a part of our everyday lives.

“The iPhone isn’t a simple gadget,” says Scott Steinberg, CEO and lead analyst at TechSavvy Global. “It’s the one gadget to rule them all. It offers endless functionality that, in theory, can literally double for any device, short of, perhaps, a dustbuster or a vacuum.”

Ok, there might be a few other things it can’t do, but the range of apps is pretty astonishing.

CES 2011 - Your Digital Life - A CNBC Special Report
CES 2011 - Your Digital Life - A CNBC Special Report

Need to start your car to heat it up on a cold morning? Stay in your PJs! The Viper SmartStart app can do it for you. (You will, of course, have to have some hardware installed in your vehicle as well.) It’ll also pop the trunk and lock and unlock your doors.

Can’t read that sign on a building when visiting Mexico? Don’t bother with a translation dictionary. Get Word Lens, an app that instantly translates words viewed through the iPhone’s camera lens.

Forgot to turn off the light in the other room? Stay on the couch and fire up the Creston app, which not only can control all the lights in your home (again, with the right modules installed), but also acts as a remote for your home entertainment system and can even set your thermostat.

Heck, there’s even an app to make you a better dresser. Ask A Stylist lets you upload a picture and ask a fashion question from a style expert, with answers returned in as little as three minutes.

This is, of course, on top of the wealth of communications and entertainment options that are available. And we haven’t even touched on the wealth of apps for other smartphones, such as those powered by Android.

Angry Birds iPhone app
Source: Apple
Angry Birds iPhone app

Smartphones, of course, don’t control our lives, but some folks are pretty reliant on them. Take Vasu Vasudevan of San Francisco, for instance. His house is devoid of light switches or thermostats. Everything is controlled via his iPhone.

Technically, he has the Lutron automated system, but he wasn’t happy with that company’s control app, prompting his son Gautam to build one for him. Motion sensors know when Vasu or his wife walk into a room and turn on the lights, but if they want to make a change, out comes the iPhone.

“Let’s say I want to [alter] the mood settings—let’s say I want to watch TV and turn the lights down,” he says. “This application will do that.”

Overnight visitors to the home are given a spare iPod that also has the app and instructions on how to use it. And Vasudevan says he plans to install three iPads in the walls around the home to act as central control panels.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, but as Blackberry owners (who suffered through a pair of nationwide service outages last year) can attest, once you’re used to them, it sure is a pain to live without ‘em.

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“One of the iPhone’s greatest strengths is is synchronize everything,” says Steinberg. “Were they to disappear overnight, it might bring our productivity to a temporary halt, but it wouldn’t be devastating unless you’re in Aruba pretending to be in the office.”


Look for more information about apps, Apple products and new technology, during CNBC's in-depth coverage of the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show—online and on-air. Julia Boorstinwill report from the show beginning Wednesday, January 5 and Maria Bartiromo will anchor "Closing Bell" from CES on Thursday and Friday, January 6 and 7, 3-5pm ET.

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