Don’t get caught up in the naming of things with words, it gets confusing.  Words change the very nature of how we think about something.  It is “this”, therefore it is “that”.  Now, a tree is a tree and a rock is a rock, unless you are in some altered state on consciousness, but we won’t go there. I’m focused on the newcomer words that are still in flux.   Too often it is herd mentality that gives  new things their name.

Today I stared on my iPhone, Blackberry, GPhone and Palm pre on my desk and ask myself  “what are these?”

mobile-phones1Cell Phones, Mobile Devices or Mobile Computers?

My company, Broadlook is developing software for mobile devices and I needed to have all of them.  I’m also a gadget freak, so I enjoy having all of them. Perhaps the collection of them, together, was odd and put me into a bit of a trance.

“What are these?”, I asked myself again.

Cell phones and mobile devices were the first 2 that came to mind.  Then I glanced at a desktop computer under my desk.  “A little computer”, I thought to myself, then “a mobile computer”.

I looked at my laptop, back to the desktop and again to the cell phones on my desk. “They are all computers”.  I thought.  What is the difference?

Why are they not called mobile computers or pocket computers?  When I asked myself that question, I knew I was on to something.  It was something big.  I realized that the fact that most people call these fabulous devices “mobile devices” and not “mobile computers” is a hindrance to big thinking.  It’s a draw back to the nature of our culture, something that I will fight to the freeze*.

So I took one more look at the devices on my desk and decided to start thinking about them as “mobile computers.” The first thing I needed to get my mind around was how these mobile computers related to the desktops and laptops that are ubiquitous at a software company.

“What are they capable of?” I needed to do some research.  I needed facts.  So I started with the CPU of my mobile computer of choice, an iPhone 3GS.  How did it compare with my desktop or my laptop. Using my new favorite search engine, I did a search for “iphone processor speed” to find out that the iPhone 3GS runs at about 624Mhz.

Next, I  did a search to find out when in the history of the PC desktop. Did it run at about the same speed?  Being a computer historian, I knew that speed was around the speed of a 486, so I did a search for “iphone speed 486 processor” and found several references to the iPhone being about the speed of a 486 desktop computer in 1995.  So 1995 is my baseline year. Looking at the CPU only would not be thorough, so I decided to compile some information on some of the other things that effect a computers performance as well as a few other attributes.

If you don’t like tech stuff, skip this next few sections and get right to the “Vision stuff” iPhone vs. 486 shootout:

Comparing a 486 desktop computer in 1995 to an iPhone 3GS today.  Today is mid 2009,  14 years beyond the 486.  14 years, remember that. Check out how the numbers match up.  I researched a several sources to find configurations for a new 486 in 1995.

  • CPU:  The current processor in the iPhone 3GS running at 600Mhz is equivalent to an Intel 486 processor in mid 1995.
  • Memory:  The iPhone 3GS has 256MB of memory or 16 times the 16MB that 486 had.
  • Storage:   The iPhone 3GS has 16GB of storage,  32X the storage of the 500MB hard drive of the 486.
  • Display:  The iPhone 320X480,   the 486 had XGA or 1024×768
  • Network:  The iPhone can connect to modern WAN/LAN @ 100Mb, the 486 had 56kb modems. Additionally, the iPhone has bluetooth capabilities for a wireless data transfer rate of 1Mb/S.
  • Software:  The iPhone has over 50,000 applications, the 486 had about 5000 commercial titles
  • Software development:  You can create an iPhone application in a few days.  It could take weeks, months or years to create anything of substance for the 486
  • Voice control:  iPhone, no problem for basic stuff.  486? Muhhahha ha.
  • Price:  iPhone 3GS is $500,  ($200 if you get a cell phone plan).  The 486 was about $2000.

Shootout conclusion: Looking at CPU only, the iPhone is similar to the 486.  The 486 wins big on the display capabilities.  When looking at the big picture, the iPhone or any high end mobile device makes the 486 look like a toy.  Memory, storage and network speed all are large contributors to overall system performance.  Put it all together and it means that the iPhone would look like it was from another planet in 1995.

Technology backbone.  Now and near future:  Wireless data transfer

  • USB 2.0 data rate 480 MB/sec  (now)
  • USB 3.0 data rate 4.8 GB/sec  (soon)
  • Sony “Transjet” technology   70 MB/sec  (now)   Drawback: only transmits 3cm
  • Certified Wireless USB –  60MB/sec  (soon)  Transmits 3 meters

Exercise 1:  Can we use full size mouse and keyboards with our Mobile Computers?

  • Yes.  Bluetooth works for monitors, keyboards and audio communication

Exercise 2:  Can we use full size monitors with our mobile devices

  • Low end monitor:  1024×768 @ 60 frames/sec.   Requires 47MB/sec transfer rate.  (no compression).
  • High end monitor: 1920×1200 @ 60 frames/sec. Requires 138MB/sec transfer rate  (no compression)
  • Bluetooth 2.0 is a factor of 47X too slow to stream video over wireless.  Even Bluetooth 3.0 at 24Mb/s (3MB/s) is too slow for video unless it is really small and highly compressed.
  • The upcoming “Certified Wireless USB” will work fine for video transmission with bandwidth to spare.

Vision of a mobile future

I wake up naturally.  My breathing changes and my iPhone 10GS senses the noise in the room and determines that I am awake.  The iPhone is sitting on a charging pad on my nightstand,  cords connected to devices is a thing of the past.  The full size wall screen in my bedroom silently turns on.  It is all powered by my iPhone. I had a great dream about flying and I want to record the feeling in my journal.  My wife is still sleeping so I opt out of dictation mode.  My iPhone presents me with 4 options that have been selected from my patterns at this time in the morning.  Check news,  review my schedule,  record a dream or plan a workout.  With a button press, I choose “record a dream.  The wall monitor turns into a simple word processor and the iPhone projects a laser keyboard on my bed.  My dream gets recorded and I start my day inspired.


Off to work.  The iPhone/Mobile computer on my belt.  I’m running low on hydrogen so I stop at the local refilling station.  As I drive up to the pump a large touch screen comes alive, connects with my iPhone and performs the financial transaction.  The only interaction from me would be my optional PIN code, but the touch screen verified my fingerprints, so it really is not needed.  In addition, my car communicated with my Mobile Computer.  I’m supporting a local business and it knows my car for the “free fill-up” if I after 10 fill ups.

My to-do list on my Jeep’s monitor, tells me the refrigerator at the house, told my iPhone that I should pick up Milk today.  However, 1/2 way to my office, the task is checked off, as my wife picked up the milk already her way back from the gym  (Powered by a private family social network), all interconnected.    3/4 the way to my office, the computer at my children’s school let me know that they checked into class.  There are 100 other things that I could be notified about this morning, but my preferences screen out the noise and keep my updated on what is important to me.  In fact, my phone is already communicating with my admin’s phone.  I’m running late, schedules need to be adjusted.

At work:  I sit down at my desk.  There is no computer, just interface devices.  Keyboard, mouse, and yes, a kick-ass monitor.  No desktop. The mobile device IS my computer.   Wherever I go in the facility,  I can access any screen that I have rights to.  My favorite is the picnic table outside with an embedded surface computer.


Off to the airport.  On the drive, I am confirmed and checked in.  My ETA to arrive, park, get to the terminal, and get on the flight are all displayed (my preferences).  I’ve got plenty of time.  The car and phone communicate with my wife’s and my admin’s phone.  “Donato did not forget to go to the airport” it lets them know.  As is my pattern, I’m given a 1-button option to call my children.  They are in class, so I record a “see you when Daddy gets back video”.   I’m going to Texas.  My iPhone gives my children’s mobile computers all sorts of interesting facts about where Dad is going.  Upon my return, I’m given a lesson by my oldest about the Alamo.

At the airport:  Every terminal is a smart terminal. Touch sensitive, connected to my iPhone.  My credit card credentials are in the phone.  If someone else has my Phone, it won’t work, since it is a touch screen, it continually verified my fingerprints to make sure that it is me.  My children’s allowance limit is set on their mobile as well.  I can track what they are buying.  I will know what they are watching, and I can be an informed parent.  As they grow into adults, they will gain the rights and privacy of an adult.

In the mobile future, everything is permission based.  Everyone has the right to privacy and to opt out.  The level of opt is by choice.

In the airplane:  No more laptops.  Instead, smart screens on the backs of the seats that face you.  200 passengers minus 15 pound laptop + cases, the plane is 3000 pounds lighter.

On the ground:  The Hilton knows that I am coming in.  My phone tells me the shuttle is running 10 minutes behind.

With more information and fewer unknowns, traveling is less stressful.

At the Hotel:  I am checked in as soon as I walk through the doors at the Hilton.  I don’t have to go to the front desk; I like carrying my own luggage. Room number 2120, close to the elevator, no smoking room, breakfast options are presented.  I choose Eggs Benedict.   Hmmm,  a 30 minute workout gets added to my schedule to burn the extra calories.  I’m given the option of Eggs Benedict and workout OR granola and no workout.  I choose the Eggs Benedict. Wake up call is scheduled 30 minutes early and a lane in the pool is reserved for me.

At the conference:  GPS inside my mobile shows me where everything is.  No running last minute to find out where I am speaking.  Thai restaurant choices and reviews of each are presented for my review.  The conference social network connects me with 3 other people that were craving Thai.  Reservations are made and I meet 3 new people.   Never eat alone.

Coming home:  I’m updated on the soccer game I missed.  In fact, I watch the entire video on the plane.  In flight video conferencing is an option, should I choose to talk to my family…while in flight.  Technology, done right, improves the human condition.

All the things that I’ve talked about are possible today.  No kidding.  The only thing that is lacking is the infrastructure and the middleware, and the desire.  The software (middleware) is being created now.  Airports already have the big monitors, the next generation needs to be smart terminals for our mobiles.

How it will happen.

Each niche piece of software will be created by someone.  It will solve a problem in arriving at the airport, getting a taxi, ordering breakfast, etc.  Private, permission-based social networks will have a huge opportunity to play in the mobile future.  They will replace the Facebooks, MySpaces, and LinkedINs.  The small and niche always chip away and kills the big, slow and generic.  Look at what is happening to Job Boards today. Most of the companies making these mobile apps will NOT make much money.  Next, consolidation of technology will occur. Some will happen with mergers & acquisitions. Companies in India and China will not innovate, but simply copy what 100’s of smaller firms are doing.  Right now, anyone can make a few bucks on a mobile app.  That will change.  Most of these micro apps have nothing truly unique to patent.  The best a small operator can do is either become very popular or truly innovate to protect themselves.   The best protected apps are ones like Contact Capture for the Blackberry and iPhone.  These apps are extremely simple, but are powered by a back end services that have years of R&D and robust technology.

Soooo much opportunity for those that understand that this will happen and is happening now.  The mobile future is exciting.  Get on or get left behind.

*yes the freeze, not death, I intend on being frozen.

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