It is clear from a number of factors that dominance in the future of client computing will not be derived from the desktop or even laptop markets but rather from a position of strength in mobile phones and/or handheld devices.
Here are some of the key factors:
1)In its April 12th-18th, 2008 issue, the Economist spells out the market facts – mobile phone usage and growth in sales continue to outpace PCs and Internet usage by huge margins;
2)Yet computing power(read the core computing basics of CPUs, memory, and “hard” disk drives) continues to double in capacity or halve in size/weight and/or cost every 15-18 months – mobile are already mini-PCs in computing power. The only real constraint is a) the size and density of their screens, b)their ability to connect directly to other devices (connectors take up precious surface real estate)which may be desirable for security, speed of operation, and non-interference reasons; and c)mobiles will always lag behind the speed and capacity of traditional desktops and laptops;
3)The PC desktop and laptops are currently not just stagnating but getting constipated with huge, bloated OS from Apple MacOS/X, Linux in its many variants, and Microsoft Windows Vista. It is telling that everyone of these OS form the base of their Server OS on their Client OS. Configurable, trim, module-based, and dynamically loaded OS do exist but primarily for embedded systems. Notably Asteroid, iPhone OS, and Windows Mobile editions are all rewrites to fit the tasks and the hardware constraints of mobiles. But now those constraints are falling to Moores Law giving mobile OS and apps more room to maneveur;
4)As a consequence of 3), innovation is occurring first on mobiles, then being picked up to desktops and notebooks. Examples are a) iPhones touchscreen with GUI gestures, b)iPhones accommodating a full web experience in a small screen space; c)mobile cameras and video takers/web cams, d)Bluetooth and other WiFi local communications, e)location determining services like GPS etc, f) high resolution, highly readable small screens (already seen on some specialized notebooks as second screens; and g)modularized software apps, and many others;
5)As th CTIA and other wireless shows confirmed, 4G and WiMax transmission is coming on line over the next 6-18 months bringing huge bandwidth, connectivity and interoperability opportunities
6)Yet the software ball game is effectively closed on PCs as two monopolistic Pitbulls, Apple and Microsoft, will tear to pieces any vendors deemed intruders in their protected spaces. In contrast, the mobiles ball game is still open as technology (see 3) and 5) above) and market shares change rapidly;
7)Finally, there is the lesson of Microsoft Offices key to success, especially in the Enterprise. Office rumbled to an impenetrable market lead not because it had superior word processing or spreadsheet apps; but rather because Redmond gave away a free copy of Mail/Outlook with every copy of Office. Communication, in all its variety of forms, trumps all other apps (yes, games included).
Now if you want to see a raging discussion on where mobile is going, try this post for starters. In the meantime, if you are concerned how your PC client software or hardware vendor is doing – are they “proactive” or future-proofed, then check out if and how they are faring in the mobile space. Mobiles and the cloud, until it rains, are shaping the future of client computing.
updated: April 18th, 2008