The future of mobile computing

I don't normally use this space to speculate about the future. In the rapidly changing world of technology, speculation is rife, and usually the opposite happens. But this thought provoking post by Steven Levy on Wired has totally sparked my imagination.

I'm going to quote a portion of what Steven wrote:
The fact is, the way we use computers is outmoded. The graphical user interface that’s still part of our daily existence was forged in the 1960s and ’70s, even before IBM got into the PC business. Most of the software we use today has its origins in the pre-Internet era, when storage was at a premium, machines ran thousands of times slower, and applications were sold in shrink-wrapped boxes for hundreds of dollars. With the iPad, Apple is making its play to become the center of a post-PC era. But to succeed, it will have to beat out the other familiar powerhouses that are working to define and dominate the future.

True enough. I remember the first computer my dad brought home, made by Sharp, Japan (1985). (Sharp Super MZ with 8 bit CPU and 128kb Ram. it was also one of the earliest machines with a floppy drive. It ran on DOS/ BASIC. And it cost around Rs. 20,000 - we had a monochrome monitor as color was too expensive then).

Here is an image of it from sharpmz, where someone has taken the trouble to put together historical information on the Sharp Computer range;

 OK. End of nostalgia trip. This post was supposed to be about the future and not the past!

But to get back to The Wired article, the future looks like this and it runs on Apps :)

Or it looks like Google's Chrome OS and cloud computing - get or run all the apps you want, directly off the web, using Google Docs rather than a bulky Office Suite. And in that case, what would happen to Microsoft with Windows 7, Office etc.? All you would need on your device is actually a browser!

So here are my 2 bits about the future and what to expect:
1) Multiple portable access points for Internet (Phone, tablet, netbook, notebook) means the death of the desktop. I have always owned a desktop because my work involves creation of reports and presentations and I appreciate the comfort of a 19 inch monitor and full sized keyboard. But I find I use it less and less. Desktops will remain a niche segment (office use, gamers etc.) but their appeal will surely diminish. That goes across Macs and PCs alike.
2) More platforms : A few years ago people were cribbing about Microsoft's monopoly. I think those days are over, for good. Between the Apple ecosystem built for mobile devices, Google's Chrome OS and Android and Linux, and of course Windows 7, we are going to have choices. And these are real choices, because they will be affordable choices. And we will be forced to understand and evaluate the differences.
3) Migration from fixed price software to pay and use model : Judging by the way apps are setting the pace, pretty soon, you will need to only pay for what you want to use; monthly, daily or time-based.
4) Rule of content : Ultimately whether its the iPad or some other device, the hardware is viewed by marketers as a platform for content. What they would want, is of course, for you to pay for content, making a sustainable model for them. Apple may sell a million iPads but they don't just want to make money off hardware, they want you to get your content off  iTunes and iBooks and click on iAds which translate into more money for them. Ditto for others. Expect the devices you buy to point you towards specific sources of content whether you want those or not. Hell, the Internet has been free for years and now it's time for people to cash in.


  1. I can see and imagine the changes you write about, though the quality of broadband access and its penetration in India is very uneven, out of step with that in other advanced societies like those in Japan, South Korea, Norway and the US. we need affordable and fatter pipes to reach the rich content on the internet.
    Adoption of 3G in India is far behind that in a few other countries. ramble over..

  2. Hey Anand,

    It's true that we lag behind big time in India on the broadband front. And actually the mobile computing scene makes no sense without internet access on the go! I had posted on the day of the 3G auction, that it remains a distant dream with the earliest launch of the commercial service scheduled in September this year. Till then, we can only be onlookers!

  3. In the field of computing, both hardware and software, forecasting will be like magazine astrological predictions; most of them will be off the mark and sometimes totally wrong. Does not follow that one must not predict.

    Earlier predictions :
    1. A computer with 16K memory will solve all technical/ mathematical problems.
    2. Computer on the table - will never happen.
    3. Manufacturing limitations will limit the number of transistors that can be accommodated in a chip and its computing power.
    4. Ada will eclipse all programming languages, as it was English like and adopted by US Defence.

    You are right, multiple technology products or access points as you call them is the way to go. We are all different in temperament, aptitudes and attitudes - our needs can be met only by multiple solutions.

  4. Yes, predictions are challenging and yet so off track in technology. I remember the famous prediction by someone from IBM that no one will want a desktop :) whoever said that is mercifully buried in oblivion. I guess the thing in tech is that short-term predictions may be fairly accurate (no one predicts for a long term horizon, because no one knows what may come up). It's still fun to imagine the future!


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