The computer is merging with the phone. The circuitry to do this is easy. Ouch! I can hear my colleagues in the semiconductor industry yelling at me already. What is being accomplished at the chip level is truly amazing. Processor speeds are hitting 1.5GHz and we have dual core processors with quad core just around the corner. Graphics are now 3D capable and 1080P playback is supported. Storage is 32GB or better. 512MB of RAM is common with 1GB on its way. Wow! That’s a nice laptop from a couple of years ago and a nice desktop from four or five years ago. Still, this is easy compared to the human factors issues.
The transition from desktop to laptop was easy with relatively simple human factors issues involved. The difficult part was the hardware. Software changed very little. Human factors involved things like making the screen thinner and the keyboard better. The smartphone brought basic issues to be resolved. Some, including whether to have a physical keyboard or not, are still being played out in the marketplace. As capability improved, Microsoft went down the “featuritis” path. Windows Mobile started to generate the first batch of application content for phones. But.. it took Apple to blow the doors wide open with the iPhone and its associated app store.
Why Apple won when Microsoft had such a huge head start involves many things and will be the subject of a future discussion. It is a fascinating topic. The simple answer is that Apple used the emerging power included in smartphone hardware to reinvent the user interface. In hindsight, everything prior to the iPhone either feels limited or clunky. With the iPhone we finally got a pone OS that understood it was on a phone rather than trying to be a mini laptop. The success of the iPhone user interface is illustrated by a friend of mine. He said that after getting an iPhone it was frustrating to use his Garmin GPS. He kept wanting to swipe the screen. That’s the sign of a good UI. It quickly becomes natural and you get frustrated when similar devices don’t operate the same way.
Today we have iOS, Android, WebOS, Windows Mobile 7 and several other contenders in the phone/tablet computer arena. We have phones with keyboards and phones without. There are big screens and small screens. With Android there is a mini battle of who can best customize the Android UI. The take-away is that this is a major trend. The path is not clear and is rapidly developing. The winning formula today may not be the winning formula tomorrow. The take-away is that this is a major trend.
According to IDC, there were more smartphones sold in 2010 than PCs. Think about that. Let it sink in. The phone is becoming the dominant computing platform. In the future the laptop will be secondary to the phone. It will augment the phone rather than the smartphone augmenting the laptop. As the phone takes on this new role it will have to evolve way beyond its present state. As this happens the phone will consume more and more devices. Convergence will expand well beyond computer and phone. In addition, a second trend will move to the forefront. That trend is transparency. This includes both transparency of use, i.e. the UI extending across many devices, and transparency of data.