Cell Phones – The Future of Computing

by Krishna on July 4, 2007

It looks like the iPhone has made a great start with an estimated 700,000 iPhones sold. I suppose the world is now divided into the following camps:

  1. People who have an iPhone.
  2. People who don’t have one, but wish they had.
  3. People who will keep complaining about the iPhone hype, until they finally give in.
  4. People who don’t know about the iPhone yet.

Regardless of the iPhone’s merits or demerits, it is part of a trend towards making the cell phone increasingly powerful. Six months ago, I wrote a post on the “cell phone computer” where I discussed how the cell phone is increasingly taking over many functions that were done by other devices or equipment. Today, that is even more so. Although the primary selling point of the iPhone is its design, it also has significant new features.

Why should the cell phone be the core component around which other technologies are assimilated? Why not the computer or the TV? Here are a few reasons:

  1. Cell phones are mass-market consumer products. Even people who are not tech-savvy can use them.
  2. Being electronic gadgets, they are very reliable, unlike computers.
  3. They are rugged and portable. Since they run on batteries, you don’t need to worry about power sources most of the time.
  4. Business models of cell phone companies are built around charging for the phone service. So, you can get very inexpensive, but capable phones.

As technology advances, cell phone service costs will continue to decrease and coverage areas will increase. This not only means a large consumer base, but also greater usage. In simple terms, everyone will have a cell phone with them and be connected all the time.

With increasing and better Internet availability, cell phones will replace desktop and laptop computers as the primary device for accessing the Internet. Why do most people use the Internet? Read email, play games, check the weather, browse the news – you can do that and more on cell phones now. The only obstacle is consistent good Internet access and that will only improve as time goes.

The main problem with cell phones, as I mentioned in my previous point, is the fact that they are small. Although people like smaller cell phones because of the convenience, they like seeing things on larger screens. The two are not mutually exclusive. A small piece of equipment can produce a large image by using projection on a wall. Or it could be docked to a large screen display, thus reducing battery power needs.

My feeling is that the latter is most likely to happen. You would have stand-alone screens that could easily connect to different cell phone models through a common interface. You would get your movies from the cell phones. In the future, you probably will never buy any movies in a physical medium like DVDs. You would stream movies from a central library using your cell phone as a conduit to the Internet.

Although people are getting better at entering data into a cell phone, the keyboard and mouse will not go away soon because they are perhaps the most efficient input devices available. Multiple touch screens are great, but people will continue to have a need to enter text. This is true even after high-precision voice technology is commonly available.

One reason why many programmers don’t see this trend is the fact that our whole careers have been in front of a desktop or a laptop. We have been creating applications that run on a personal computer or on a server. Server computing and development will continue as applications and data become centralized. But the clients will shift from a PC or Mac to a cell phone.

The one major difference between developing for a desktop system and developing for a cell phone is the fact that cell phones must continue to be reliable. You probably cannot have Norton Anti-Virus or other protection programs running on your cell phone. Users won’t stand for that sort of stuff on an electronic gadget. What this means is a fundamental change in how you create programs.

Other differences are disappearing.

With the iPhone, we just saw the integration of the iPod with the cell phone. What is next? I think the next stop is integration of Web 2.0 sites with cell phones. We will increasingly start seeing user-generated content coming from cell phones. For example, you go to a restaurant, it sucks and you post the review right then and there as you wait for your check. The first web sites that enable this capability will win, and they will win big.

Watch this space in another six months.

{ 6 comments }

cOOL_aLIEN_fRM_mARS July 5, 2007 at 12:04 am

Hi,

I think you have hit the nail with respect to the cell phones being extended to larger displays….

but

“Being electronic gadgets, they are very reliable, unlike computers.”

I am a bit confused with this comment….what are you implying?

ultimately all the hardware will have to run on some kind of software rt? I agree that towards the connectivity side a lot of the co-design trade-off will be biased towards the hardware…but ultimately the “entertainment” apps will still be run purely on software rt? and thru subject the the same issues as a “desktop” software is subject to.

Krishna July 5, 2007 at 5:13 am

Yes, definitely software will play a more important role on cell phones, but they cannot work the same way on them as they do on desktop computers.

Phones cannot keep crashing and rebooting. Users should not have to worry about viruses and worms. Users should have to worry about incompatibility between different programs and install/reinstall.

Of course, what should be done is never what is actually done. I suppose we may see more desktop issues on cell phones as cell phone software increases. But that is a step in the wrong direction, in my opinion.

orcmid July 5, 2007 at 9:46 am

Didn’t you exclude the category of people who simply have no interest in the iPhone.

Krishna July 5, 2007 at 10:37 am

@orcmid

Yes, I did, because the list was mostly tongue-in-cheek. 🙂 There are definitely many reasons not to get an iPhone right now, including the fact that there will be another version around the corner with some of the initial technical glitches ironed out and the possibility that competitors could come out with something better and cheaper.

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Krishna July 6, 2007 at 8:55 am

Thanks syferium

Right now, I am not looking for placing ads on this site, but thanks anyway for the information.

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