Friday, August 5, 2011

Mobile, past, present and future

There is always a debate whether one can predict the future looking at the past or whether the past simply constrains our future thinking. I think both future looking and analyzing the past are useful activities in prediction.

Thinking about my career working as an engineer with mobile technology, starting in 1997 with the Motorola M301


A number of key technological elements have improved significantly over the last 15 years:


Battery

The m301 had a stand-by time of a few hours and talk time of about 20 min, the battery was large and heavy and had memory - charging a not-fully-discharged battery would lead to loss of performance. The official specs quoted the battery as "Included NiCad battery gives 12 hours standby or 70 minutes talktime". 

NiCad batteries soon gave way to NiMh which had twice the capacity of the Nicad. Then came the Lithium-ion which produced the same capacity with about 30% less weight. These technologies all served to increase the battery performance and reduce the size and weight of the battery.

Screen

The m301 is quoted as having "LCD Screen including a 2 line backlit Information Display", these limited character black and white displays have given way to high resolution color touch screens. The 1997 Motorola StarTac had a 4 x 15 monochrome display. 

Processing power

Phones around 1997, used the Intel 386 chip with a processor clocked at about 20 MHz  (see some specs here ) of course importantly, vast improvements have been made in power management and consumption which means that modern processors are not only smaller and faster, but also use less power than those of 1997. The apple iphone 4 uses a 1Ghz A4 processor which can run HD video for 10 hours (as a comparison - see this report from Jan 2011).

Component size 

Companies like MediaTek  are developing mobile chipsets which integrate many modern mobile functionality (wifi, bluetooth, duel/tri band, edge etc)  into one chipset and furthermore are designed to easily run modern OS's like Android. This is not only bringing down the component size of mobile devices, but also reducing power consumption and cost.

Data

Data is the key to offering a wide variety of applications to the consumer. A number of aspects are important, the storage capacity of the device (to store files) and the bandwidth available for download. Since the m301 networks began by adding GPRS which provided download data rates of 56-114 kbit/second, later Edge (max 473.6 kbit/s) and Evolved Edge (1 Mbit/s) where replaced by the roll-out for 3G technology which had data at the core of the protocol design. Modern HSPDA provides data rates of up to 42 Mbit/s. Thus mobile data rates start to rival previous generation ADSL. Moving forward 4G technology offers 100Mbit/s up to 4 Gbit/s for low mobility users.

The future


The big question is where do we go from here ? It is quite evident that R&D organizations will continue to improve battery capacity vs size and weight. Components will continue the trend to offer more processing power for less circuit board real-estate. Screen technology will continue to improve offering enhanced user experience. Mobile networks will continue to offer higher data rates (subject to capacity and investment) . All this means that increasingly we will access the Internet from our mobile devices.

Some things that we can expect:

  • Mobile devices become ever more integrated in our daily lives (join the debate AndroidGizmo )
  • Mobiles are used for payments (parking, supermarket, theater, cinema etc)
  • Gaming on the move become more mainstream
  • Continued advances in Location based services
  • Virtual reality browsing (things like Layer )
As the mobile devices becomes more powerful, it is conceivable that it becomes our primary electronic device, slowing replacing the PC, TV , Sat Nav and Gaming console. Plug in a keyboard and monitor (you have a PC), connect a screen and satellite decoder (your TV) or you charger in your car (satnav).

Beyond that, as form factors become smaller and more powerful there is no reason why mobile devices will not become integrated into standard items of clothing and fashion. Sunglasses for example or some device that clips onto a part of the body. GPS in combination with motion detection would make the user interface easily controlled by the body as opposed to the keypad for many applications. We could expect to see the mobile being split into units. One purchases a controller unit, a separate screen (which may be in you glasses), Separate GPS or multimedia modules. In some ways this what happened with the original home computer prior to IBM compatible PC's. Initially everything was integrated, later the marker demanded configurable peripherals - a centralized unit with many add-on's.

If we think of the next generation mobile device as a Controller unit with a number of interconnected modules, delivering differing services (e.g screen, gps, gaming options etc), we can start prediction developments in software applications to take advantage of these more specialized connected modules.









Other interesting links

The History of the mobile
Wiki 4G





2 comments:

  1. These days technology has its vast tech tools spread all over the globe which in turns make many things to work in mini formats and versions.U made many good points regarding that.Thanks for ur valuable and interesting post.
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