Future of Mobile Phones

I was recently at the Microsoft World Partner Conference in Washington D.C. and during a key note speech it all clicked for me. I have heard Steve Ballmer in the past categorize devices by form factor. Ultimately it boils down to screen size, so let’s call them small, medium and large. Small is a phone screen, medium a slate and large is laptop/PC. In his key note Kevin Turner added another dimension, which is the device usage. Usage is a scale between creation of media and consumption of media, with shades in between.

Now if we think of this matrix of devices, and more importantly the operating systems (OS), from a digital convergence perspective, we start to see strengths and weaknesses between brands. Google, Apple and Microsoft are the only brands with a full convergence story. Theirs stories span also into gaming devices, TVs and auto infotainment. The reason why these players are in the ‘big boy’ game is the fact that their core is the OS and they have continuously invested into advancing it. You can make the best email pushing and web browsing smart phone in the world, but if it doesn’t integrate with every other device in the house, sharing content over a cloud, then soon you will be loosing market share.

This morning the Finnish financial paper Kauppalehti had an article about Nokia. The article stated that rather than Apple the bigger competitor for Nokia is Google. I believe that they are both big competitors for Nokia, but for other reasons than those stated in the article. The article reaches as far as stating that the battle is about applications (OVI has 10,000 apps, where as Apple’s store has over 150,000). When usability and hardware reach parity only apps extend the value proposition for the consumer, but we need to expand our horizons and look beyond in to the cloud.

I’ve written that in the next 12 months usability and devices will exceed the minimum requirement that Apple has set and the three brands Apple, Google and Microsoft will reach virtual parity. The future will be fought over tightness of integration between OSs across the different form factors, as well as the application developer partner ecosystems. What made it click for me was the key note about the cloud and how smart devices will draw smart content from smart clouds. Future apps on any form factor will draw on content from the cloud. All data will be uploaded into the cloud and thus will be immediately accessible across all form factors in the true spirit of digital convergence. As data speeds increase the role of client software will equally degrees. Ultimately apps will query content from other apps in the cloud and the cloud apps will do the heavy processing of data leaving all the device’s processing capacity for processing visual outputs (HD and 3D) and local data inputs (sound, visual, movement and other sensory inputs).

Kevin Turner stated that the iPad is a device for consumption of content and not really for creation. Microsoft’s focus will be a hybrid between a laptop and a slate, which better serves a creator of content. At the end of the day I believe that there is a role to be played by all form factors. We, as consumers, consume and create content that we access in the cloud using different devices depending on the situation. Now… what is Apple’s cloud play? What is the degree of Google’s tightness over form factors and their degree rich client based ‘creator tools’? I believe Apple will grow beyond virtual storage to a full cloud play soon. Google is investing into experimentation of increasing bandwidth of data links, because by adding a factor of 10x to today’s data links, even web based ‘creator’ tools will seem rich. However, I do not see Google’s dream of 10x bandwidth happen in the same time frame as Apple’s cloud.

In summary the future of all personal devices is in tightly integrated OS families over robust clouds with sophisticated developer tools. When analysts analyze brands such as Nokia and RIM, they need to consider the above.

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