Only a few short years ago, when mobile devices were still mainly cell phones and music players, the thought of a mobile revolution supplanting the computer revolution seemed distant. Computers ruled for three main reasons: more powerful hardware, better software and, most importantly, much faster access to the internet. However, we have seen a major shift in the way we use communication technologies mainly because wireless access to the Internet has improved dramatically and major investments have been made, and continue to be made, in mobile hardware and software. We stand at another major technological turning point where typing is being supplanted by thumbing and access to information is immediate. What will the immediate future of mobility look like?
Desktop vs. Laptop vs. Netbook vs. Tablet
There is an interesting transition taking place. Where the desktop once ruled supreme, the need to be mobile shifted the focus from stationary computer to laptop computers. The need to get smaller and cheaper spawned the netbook and the increased focus on larger mobile screens and digital media consumption has spawned the iPad. It is well documented what the strengths and weakness are of each device so I will not discuss them here. The observation I do want to make is that what appears to be guiding the evolution of devices is the propensity toward mobility.
Desktop vs. Mobile OS
I know why I hate MS Windows – complexity and bloat. While OSX and Linux address this problem in their own ways, all desktop OS’s suffer from the same problem – they are designed for locally installed software. This design philosophy derrived from a different era of computing – an era before the Internet. As a result, they suffer from the need to be large in order to handle the multiple processes required to run a full powered desktop/laptop. Mobile OS’s on the other hand, have a different design philosophy and are connected more closely to the internet. As a result, they can be much lighter and more focus can be given toward the user experience instead of managing processes. The result is a mobile experience that brings content to users faster and allows users to post content faster. Only the very few require the power of Adobe Photoshop CS5. For the rest of us, the iPhone app will do. This is why I prefer an iPhone or the idea of an iPad better than a netbook – a netbook may be smaller and run a more light version of a desktop OS, but at the end of the day, it still suffers from the same need to run processes and thus, interfering with the user experience. I would much rather be communicating on Twitter than wait for an anti-virus scan to complete
Desktop Software vs. Apps vs. Cloud Computing
This, again, is a battle of philosphies. In the PC revolution, the battle was not between ideologies but between platforms. It was Microsoft vs Apple where Microsoft, though their more open system, was the victor. In this new era of mobile computing, the battle is not the same. Those critics who claim that Apple is waging the same losing war it did vs Microsoft in it’s OS war are not understanding this new battle. This new battle is one of philosophies – native apps vs browser apps – Apple vs Google. There appears to be an agreement that mobile apps need to be full featured but also need to be light in size. Some are calling it a war of a closed ecosystem vs an open Internet. I would argue that this is an experiment on what the next generation of computing will look like. It’s likely that some hybrid of native apps and cloud computing will develop but in the meantime, let’s not forget that regardless of the outcome, lightweight mobile computing with the focus on user experience and content is where we are headed. Adobe and Microsoft would be wise to learn that lesson instead of trying to hold on to yesterday’s philosophies.
Much of this shift has resulted from the massive improvements in wireless Internet access. It will be interesting to see if 4G devices conntecting to the Internet through LTE or WiMax will be the nail in the coffin to traditional Desktop computing.