Archive for the ‘Smartpone’ Category

That sucking sound you here is the phone sucking in other devices. As the phone becomes your computer it isn’t content to stop there. More and more devices will get pulled in. Pity the poor PND. What, you don’t understand the acronym? It stands for Personal Navigation Device. You know those. That’s what you used to own before you realized your smartphone did an entirely adequate job as a GPS device and was always with you.

It isn’t just the PND. In the US, Apple iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) and the Nintendo DS have about equal market share. Apple’s market share is increasing. Sony is finding it necessary to merge the PSP into a phone. It gets worse. Microsoft hopes that merging Xbox games and Xbox Live into Windows Mobile 7 will help its mobile platform. Portable gaming is being taken over by smartphones and the related spinoff devices such as the iPod Touch.

Do you need some other devices? Let me add two more – the movie camera and the still camera. Dedicated devices are much better than using a smartphone. However, smartphones are becoming good enough for most day to day use. When news breaks worldwide the first video is usually shot from a phone.

Now do you see the scope of convergence or are you saying “Ok, but that’s pretty much it.” Think broader. With near field communication, NFC, the phone will become your wallet. You won’t need to carry credit cards. Your phone will serve that purpose. Just “swipe” your phone near a reader and you are done. It will become a controller for your home and a remote for your TV. This clip says it all.

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.

The merging of the PDA and the phone is a done deal. We have moved on to the smartphone that can run apps beyond those of the classic PDA. Still, for many, this is their view of convergence. The Palm Treo showed the way but success led to myopia and Palm is no more. OK, it’s still there and WebOS is being pushed by HP. We’ll see. Call it a dark horse in a tough race. For too long Palm thought that merging the classic PDA with the phone was where convergence would end. They were wrong and by the time they realized it they were way behind. Myopia resulted in opportunity and market position being lost.

Microsoft saw the need for the smartphone. They should be the big winner today. They aren’t. Like so many in the high tech area they thought it was about feature count. They took the merging of the computer and the phone too literally and thought the smartphone should be a smaller laptop. They were wrong. In reality the computer and the phone are moving to a merged but very different use model.  Understanding convergence without understanding transparency can lead to failure. It has for Microsoft. By any rational, technical feature count analysis they should be a big winner. For many years they have had a small version of Office on Windows Mobile phones. They have a real directory structure. Of all of the smartphones they are the closest in feel to a traditional computer. Yet, the iPhone blew them away.  Interestingly, in the end, Microsoft will turn out to have been more right than wrong. Smartphones will gain a directory structure. Trust me on this one. Even Apple will eventually succumb to this. Already the iPhone has Office type apps that sort of work with MS Office files. Microsoft is the loser who gets to say “But I was really right!” With Windows Mobile 7 they stand a chance but they are number three in a tough race.  We’ll have to wait and see if they can get away from “featuritis” and understand both convergence and transparency.

Next up in the success leads to myopia crowd is RIM and the Blackberry line. What a great success story. The push mail capability brought by RIM has revolutionized the phone. Back when email was an afterthought on phones, RIM made it primary and did it with innovation, insight and excellent execution. Just as importantly, RIM courted the IT community and insinuated themselves into the fabric of business life. Today we take mail on our smartphone for granted. RIM is the gold standard for mail connectivity and Blackerry phones are known for their keyboards that make texting and email easier than on other phones. Surely RIM will be a winner as convergence proceeds. Well, in the words of Leslie Nielson in Airplane, “Don’t call me Shirley.” As smartphones have moved from email device to small, app running, computers, RIM has been left behind. Do you see a pattern? RIM left the door open for Apple and Google. Not only did these companies take the developing space RIM ignored but they are now attacking RIM at its core. Just read this article to see how the corporate world, including financial companies, is opening up to Apple. Yes, Apple! The company that was ostracized from the corporate environment and ridiculed by IT departments everywhere is being warmly accepted into the corporate world. Times are changing. The corporate walls that protected RIM have been breached with the iPad leading the way. RIM’s PlayBook is too little too late. If it had hit the market place two years ago it might have secured the corporate world from attack and had IT departments still recommending RIM. Yet again success and lack of vision have led to stagnation.

All of this is what I call classic convergence. The phone merged with the PDA and then became the premier email access device. It would be easy to think that we are nearly done. In reality it has just started.  That’s because convergence is much, much bigger than calendars, address books and email. Stay tuned as I explore the many areas making up convergence and how this ties in with transparency.