Cell Phones: Smart Today, Brilliant Tomorrow

Carl Weinschenk

The future is now. Almost, at least. This interesting InformationWeek piece looks at what the smartphone of the future will look like. The most important insight is that the growth of cell phones will be accelerated by three conditions: Broadband will be everywhere, virtually all content will be digitized and the devices themselves will have an ever- increasing level of processing power.


It seems that good days are ahead for cell phones, which are gaining in relative importance compared to laptops. This BBC piece starts with the point that phone sales will bypass mobile PC sales in the next year to 18 months. (The Washington Post, not to be outdone in the landmark game, adds that there now are about 3.3 billion cell phones in use by the approximately 6.6 billion people on Earth.) The BBC concludes that the long-promised idea of putting a PC in a cell phone is on the cusp of happening -- if it hasn't already. There is another landmark ahead: The first cell phones using the 1 GHz Snapdragon chipsets from Qualcomm are expected this year in phones from HTC, Samsung and other vendors. Snapdragon also will provide a dedicated application process, 12 megapixel digital photos and 720 pixel high-definition imaging.


Nobody is certain, of course, precisely what future smart phones will carry. Fellow IT Business Edge blogger Rob Enderle, writing at RCR News, says the direction will be a product of efforts of Apple, Google and Microsoft. It isn't that the three will work together. Indeed, Enderle says, the competition between the high-powered trio will drive the direction of the cell phone. Enderle then goes into a good deal of detail, which is worth reading. The bottom line is that all of these companies -- and others, of course -- recognize that smartphones will be the playing ground upon which billions of dollars will be won or lost.


The way application developers go about their business also may be changing. This long post by Michael Mace at MobileOpportunity hit a nerve and generated more than 20 responses. The writer suggests that the development of unique "native" applications for cellular phones, the model that has dominated until now, is fading. The reasons are both technical -- too many operating systems and the difficulty of certifying applications on myriad carrier networks -- and marketing -- the nature of mobile devices makes it difficult for vertical application developers and the disappearance of a horizontal distribution channel. As imperfect as it is -- and the writer leaves no doubt that he considers it extremely imperfect -- the ubiquity and open nature of the Web will make it the dominant development and distribution platform for mobile applications.


While a lot is clear, a lot is not.


It's clear that smartphone storage capacity and processing power will increase and, as evidenced by Android, LiMO and Apple's iPhone, overall designs will evolve aggressively. Power supplies will improve and flexible screens will provide designers with a new level of flexibility. The networks feeding these devices will grow more powerful. Demand will grow both from consumers and business folks who, we never tire of saying, are the same people at different times of their day.


What seems not to be certain is how specialized these powerful new devices will be. It will be interesting to watch whether specialized devices emerge that train all that firepower on highly specialized features -- aimed at health care workers, salespeople or gamers, for instance -- or if very powerful but generalized devices dominate.

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