In the final part of my musing on mobile technology, I’d like to have a think about what features software and probably even hardware would be really useful or groundbreaking in the next few years. To be honest, predicting the possibilities of computing technologies past three or five years would be like King Henry VIII predicting the existence of the Bugatti Veyron.
In all honesty, the crux of the issue for me are two-fold. Most smartphones, tablets and small form factor computers have two limitations. The first is power usage and the second is data connection speed and reliability.
Batteries must improve their energy density (the amount of power you can store in a limited volume). Most smartphones wouldn’t last a day under moderate to heavy usage and as the capabilities of software increases – thereby increasing processor requirements – the power requirements will also increase. A case in point is the new Samsung Galaxy S4. It has an eight core chip! Under full load, the battery would be drained within one or two hours. This doesn’t even take into account the increase in screen size and pixel densities.
Secondly, the data connections are important. Anybody at home enjoying a private Wi-Fi network could well be in for a shock outside when their phone company connection – I’m looking at you, Vodafone Australia – is useless. As we rely more and more on mobile computing for basic tasks, the data bandwidth of mobile telecommunicatons technology must also increase.
Supposing all of this occurs as technology scales, then we’re in a good place. The main reason is that cloud computing is becoming more and more prevalent. Google, Apple and Microsoft are already pushing their cloud services out there. Google’s cloud platform is ubiquitous, many universities use them for student collaboration since it’s always been free. They even have Chromebooks using their proprietary operating system. Microsoft is doing a similar thing and integrating their Office software with Skydrive and Windows 8 variants. Apple tried to start with MobileMe and has ended up with their more entertainment focused iCloud.
All of these use streaming of some sort for multimedia and allow storage and access of all files from anywhere in the world, assuming there are no active blocks on the connection by firewalls. Essentially, in the future, this sort of thing will become more and more integrated into the software and hardware capabilities of the devices we use.
While Android and Samsung presses ahead with brute force hardware capabilities, Apple and Microsoft are looking mainly at optimisation and harmonious programming. This reflects the different operating systems’ ideologies. Where Google remains committed to an open platform where everyone can add features at the cost of potentially lazy programming (or worse, malicious software like viruses) and therefore requiring more basic computational power, Apple and Microsoft dictates certain limitations and vets software that appears on the platform stores. Part of the necessity of control is because they know that to ensure users have as small a chance as possible to screw up their devices and that the programs all behave uniformly across all devices.
In some ways, the Google philosophy is akin to what Windows was like before Windows 8. Yes, Windows 95 to 7 had bloatware, but you could ignore it and install your own preferred items. Windows on the other hand is going the way of Apple and now controls the quality of programs through its own stores. This doesn’t stop the programs from being buggy though. I think there needs to be a bit more quality control in these respects.
At one point in time, I really enjoyed the layered interface of iOS, because it was new, modern and felt rich with the faux brushed aluminium and reflective surfaces. However, as time has passed, the interface doesn’t feel tired, but rather over the top in trying to make the user feel at home. The issue is that there really is no fundamental feedback difference in touching a slab of text or button and so the textured surfaces feel a little wasted. As we all become more focused on the content, the keep it simple philosophy is starting to come through interfaces. Even Apple acknowledges to some degree through their design department that a more back to basics look and feel might be more appropriate now.
As software and hardware gets more powerful, it might be possible to have the devices begin to read our movements more and more, letting us will our way through the interface. In Windows 8, as a touch focused operating system, it is most likely possible to have a Kinect read your hand movements to complete certain tasks on the desktop. This has ergonomic benefits especially with the move towards an always connected private and public life.
Furthermore, voice recognition and electronic assistants like Siri will eventually become better at their intended tasks with increased capabilities and integration into services. At the moment, Siri is little more than a gimmick to me, and doesn’t make life much easier since the struggle with voice recognition is not yet solved. But once it is, technology would become more akin to the computers and virtual intelligences in Star Trek.
Really, those are the main future wishes I have for mobile technology. Longer lasting, simpler to interface with to make our lives easier so we can enjoy the sunshine a little bit more.