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iPhone latest power tool at Home Depot rival Lowe's

The home-improvement chain is deploying 42,000 of the gadgets to employees as part of a customer-service system that will resemble one currently used at Apple Stores, according to reports.

Why is this Lowe's employee smiling? She'll soon get to play with an iPhone at work. Lowe's Web site. Screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET

You can use an iPhone to check electronic mail, stream videos over the Internet, play dazzlingly rendered computer games, video-chat with distant relatives, and myriad other new-millennium activities. And now you can use one to drive a nail or flush your toilet.

Well, not exactly. But close. Bloomberg reports that do-it-yourself chain Lowe's is issuing 42,000 of the beloved gadgets to employees to make it easier for staff to help customers find and buy the right hammer, plumbing fixture, color of house paint, or any number of other items.

The phones will be part of a system much like the one iPhone creator Apple uses in its retail stores, blog The Next Web adds. They'll replace old-fashioned scanner guns and allow Lowe's employees who are working the floor to check product info, watch (and show) relevant videos, and consult Eventually, the devices will be equipped to take care of credit- and debit-card transactions and enabled for calling, e-mailing, and texting.

If this keeps up, we may never again hear the words "price check" ringing out of a PA system. Another precious cultural artifact lost to new technology.

The iPhone project is the Lowe's riposte to dominant rival Home Depot, which handed out Motorola phones to its workers last year, Bloomberg reports.

Lowe's is also launching an online tool called MyLowes that will let customers store and organize manuals, warranties, paint colors, and other such data, the news agency says. In addition, the home-improvement chain is tossing out 72,000 computer screens, in favor of flat-panels, and adding Wi-Fi for shoppers. Last month, it launched an iPhone-iPad app and a Spanish-language version of its Web site.