Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
November 7th, 2007

Google, Cell Phones and Our Wireless Future

Google has now made the long awaited announcement that it would be entering the wireless arena.  It was not a product, or “Google Phone” roll-out, but rather the announcement of OHA, or the Open Handset Alliance.  OHA(my choice to come up with an acronym as the full name sounds a bit too bureaucratic and almost Orwellian for me to type it a lot) is the next step in the globalization of connectivity and something I have anticipated and expected for a couple of years.

On this blog, and at conferences I point to the fact that it is the cell phone that is the true global technology. I have written about the explosive growth and sheer numbers of devices, of the technological innovation and how the cell phone has found a seat at the table of major media.  OHA takes the logical next step which is to break up the walled gardens of carriers and software suppliers.  Incompatibility is at odds with a world of  ever increasing connectedness.  Universality is one of the touch stones of our wireless future.  Another is the ongoing commoditization of the entire business pushing costs ever lower for the consumer.  OHA will facilitate both of these inevitable trends.

Google of course is doing this for business reasons.  They hope to dominate the mobile advertising marketplace the way they currently dominate the on-line one.  In addition, they seem to have a strong desire to attack the business constructs of Microsoft and other companies that sell proprietary software to individual users.

Taking a look at the growth of the Internet provides some direction as to the growth of the wireless world.  Subscription models have largely failed.  People expect content to be free and easily accessible.  As a result, advertising supported content and services has won the day.  So, think about mobile devices.  If people don’t want to pay for video, news, entertainment and information on the web, why do the wireless companies and their content suppliers think that people will pay for content on their phones?  Purchased downloads is one thing, but all else will ultimately be expected to be free.  

Currently handset makers and carriers are trying to control what gets on the phone.  That walled garden approach will fail in the future.  Think again about the Internet.  What happened to that walled garden called AOL where people paid to be included?  When was the last time you bought a computer and were limited to the software that the computer manufacturer said you could have on your computer?  Open access for all will ultimately win out.  Once the handset manufacturers run through all the cool got to have features like a music player, high resolution camera, large touch screens and such bells and whistles the marketplace will move on to more computer oriented values.  These include storage capacity, speed of use, download speeds, ability to have multiple functions open at once and ability to connect real time with a friends’ network regardless of hardware.

Where this is going to get extremely interesting and transformative is when the market forces now launched by Google intersect with a couple of other extremely interesting developments.  The first is the 10 to 100 fold increase in chip speed that is now being developed by chip manufacturers.  This of course will affect all content and multi-task functionality on wireless devices.  The second is the coming increase in data storage technology.  It is expected that a breakthrough in storage architecture could increase storage capacity by at first 10 and then 100 times.  This means that instead of 200 hours of video that is the current capacity of an iPod today, there could soon be 2,000 hours, and then 20,000 hours.  Of course when this happens there will be ever decreasing reasons to lug around a laptop, or even use a computer at all.  Just have a wireless device and an external back up hard drive.  This of course will trigger the development of devices that are larger than current smart phones, but smaller than a notebook computer.

The development of this new form of large ‘smart phone’ or small notebook computer seems certain. When wireless devices have hundreds of gigabytes of storage and can be much faster than the current generation of notebooks, there will be no need for a sizeable percent of the population to have a computer.  Those that create content, be it documents or graphics will still need the interface with laptops and desktops, and of course businesses will continue their usage of computers as we know them today, but many millions more may not.  I predict that within years most people will carry two devices.  One will be this new mini-notebook or maxi-phone and the other will be a small phone.  The third hardware component will be a back up hard drive that will also serve to integrate all the screens and electronics at the home or office.

Another way to look at this development is that there are approximately four times as many cell phones at use in the world as computers.  The OHA open source wireless platform, exponential progress in storage miniaturization and capacity, and exponential increase in processing speed will all merge together resulting in a global wireless connectivity of billions of portable computers.  We are rapidly moving toward the day when 50% of the world’s population will be carrying around portable computers that can communicate with each other.  The effects, consequences and possibilities of that truly boggle the mind.




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