Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Future of Form Factor

Form factor nowadays seems to be going wild.  Ever since the mobile revolution started, manufacturers have been trying out every form factor and seeing what sticks with consumers.  A few interesting results of this are attempts to combine devices, like turning a tablet into a netbook or a phone docking into a laptop.  One of the things about the future of mobility is that it is highly unpredictable.

To add an example of this, a very unknown fact about Apple is that they actually started working on the iPad years before the iPhone.  It suddenly hit Steve one day that the application of a mobile OS X was perfect for a phone, so he ordered the iPad project shelved and made iPhone the top priority.  Nowadays, the future of Apple products looks like they are moving away from the operating system and more into mobility.  Predictions say that OS X will begin functioning more and more like the iPad, and a lot of the features in OS X Lion and Mountain Lion are starting to show this foundation.

I want to take some time to lay out some ideas about the future of mobility and where I think it is heading.  Form factor plays a huge part in this as people become more and more disconnected from the desktop and live more and more in a cellular world.

And then there were Three....

First I want to talk about software. Trends in mobile OS market shares are starting to line up the a grim future for certain operating systems.  RIM is expected to flatline in the near future, which will leave a large chunk of smart phone users looking for a new home.  There are still a relatively large number of people who also still use feature phones and will probably convert with time.

My predictions for the future? Three mobile operating systems with equal market share.  Eventually we will live in a world with three choices: Apple iOS, Google Android, and Microsoft Windows Phone.  One day, I foresee these three being equally competitive with one another, but the leader will be the one starting the next revolution in mobility...

Mobility's Future

So where are we going with form factor? You can buy a mobile device in just about any size at the moment, but again it's all just experimentation.  The largest smart phone on the market right now is the 5.3" Samsung Galaxy Note.  This is just roughly shy of smaller 7" tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire and the HTC Flyer.  But this experimentation is really just defining what too big is for a smart phone; how far will consumers go?

Right now there is a lot of profiting from this experimentation, but at some point the hype will die and the serious question will finally be asked.  What do we do with all this mobile stuff?  A great example of this is thinking about how the smart phone came to be.  Deconstructed, it acts as many previous devices combined into one: the cell phone, gps device, gameboy/psp, mp3 player, computer, digital camera, etc.  After we as consumers bought one or more of each device and had a headache keeping track of batteries, cables, and the devices themselves, we realized that there is such a thing as too much stuff! The future of mobility will answer this question and revolutionize the definition of being mobile.

My prediction for the future of mobility is that everything revolves around the smart phone.  Tablets have shown that people are wanting the general idea and size of a laptop, but at the convenience of the smart phone.  People crave mobility in different sizes; just look at Google TV which is Android on the largest screen size yet, your 32-80" HD TV.  Auto manufacturers are starting to sync tablets and smart phones with vehicle diagnostics and media.  But the future of mobility will converge to one super device, the device that is truly the most mobile of them all, the device you take with you to bed and always have within arms reach, your smart phone.  The future of mobility is your phone powering everything you own.

This takes a little explaining to wrap our heads around, so lets pretend for a second that your phone is the only tech you own with a processor, memory, and a filesystem; everything else is simply a display.

You wake up and your phone is docked into your alarm clock.  You take your phone with you into the kitchen which then powers things like your oven, refrigerator, and keurig.  You sit down for breakfast and want to read your news on something a little bigger, so you grab your tablet sized mobile display.  Everything you are doing on your display is actually running on your phone, but is intelligently being tweaked and adjusted for the larger real estate.  You sit down at your couch and turn your tv on and again, your phone starts up as an interface to all your media, cable, and streaming.  You get into your car which then provides a driver-friendly dashboard for your apps. You get to work where you turn on a 27" monitor which acts as a "desktop" for your phone.  Every piece of technology just becomes a display for your phone.  This means consumers invest in a solid smart phone, and then simply buy different OS-agnostic displays that fit specific use cases.  No longer will there be separate purchasing of laptops, tablets, and phones.

So now comes the question, how? Smart phones will soon come standard with quad-core processors, 4G LTE data speeds that are faster than standard wifi, and wireless communications protocols like NFC, RFID, and bluetooth.  They will literally be better than yesterday's desktop, run on a battery the size of a couple credit cards, have no spinning fans and hard drive disks, all while conveniently fitting in your pocket or purse.  Storage is getting minuscule in size (a current theoretical limit of 2TB micro-SD cards) and the cloud has become everyone's storage solution.  My response is how not?

The future of mobility is the smart phone finally being smart.

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