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Looking forward to 2011: Mobile Computing

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2010 affirmed one thing: we cannot predict how mobile computing devices will change over a few months, let alone an entire year. It is possible that smartphones and tablets could completely eliminate netbooks, it is possible that devices like Modu could change smartphones forever, it is possible that future laptops will not store any data locally. But technology evolves gradually. And we can definitely predict a little about what is going to happen in the coming year, thanks in part to the various press releases made towards the end of the year. Current technology is set to improve by leaps and bounds, like it does every year.

Mobiles, tablets and netbooks in general

When we talk about mobile computing, mobile phones, tablets and netbooks all pop into mind. Now, we have all seen how confusing these terms can be. But that is inconsequential for the coming year. There are going to be major battles in the hardware and software for these devices in the coming year.

To start with, the bane of many gadgets – the battery – will continue to haunt vendors as a major improvement here seems unlikely. We hear of new technology all the time, but nothing radical is ready for the market yet. We might see minor improvements, but they will go unnoticed as the hardware is bumped up further.

Dual core processors for mobile phones are here already, and 2011 will see a lot of manufacturers using them. How much faster they will make mobile phones remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is whether the improved performance will be worth the juice it sucks out of the battery.

Netbooks are likely to become touch-screen, blurring the line between tablets and netbooks further.

Like cells, camera technology too will not undergo any radical change. The N8 is likely to remain the best camera on a smartphone till the end of the year.

On the software front, existing operating systems are slated to undergo radical changes even as new operating systems are released.

Meego, Symbian, Android, Chrome OS, iOS, Windows Phone 7 and Windows (desktop) will be covered in a while. The Open Source community is working hard on Ubuntu 11.04. The biggest change is the replacement of the UI, optimized for touch screens. We might see a lot of tablets and touch-screen netbooks using it.

Mobile banking will become more common. It will still not be as wide-spread as one would hope. It is likely that individual banks will come out with different ways to do mobile banking. We will soon be making a majority of transactions using our mobile phone, but 2011 won’t be that year.

Telecom industry

4G is now clearly defined. However, WiMAX 2 and LTE Advanced will not be widely available till 2012, so that’s a downer. T-Mobile and NSN are, however, working on a pretty speedy network (LTHSPAE) which should keep those in the US going till true 4G comes out. Considering how differently the telecom industry has evolved in different countries, it is difficult to comment on the telecom industry as a whole. US will continue to play catch-up with countries like Korea and Japan. With no common technology being worked upon (there’s HSPA+, Edge Evolution, Long Term HSPA Evolution, and a lot more) consumers will suffer the most. While speeds will continue to improve, they would have increased a lot faster were everyone to agree upon one technology. Switching carriers (especially in the US, where the discord is most visible) will become difficult, probably requiring a switch of phone.

Google

Google might want to start creating order out of chaos in the coming year. They have been on a spending spree or the past few years. In the past year, they bought around 40 companies. Yet no one has any idea where Google is going with all these acquisitions.

A new release of Android (3.0 aka Honeycomb) is slated to be released in the first half of 2011. It is said to include revolutionary changes, especially in the UI, thanks to a certain Mr. Matias Duarte who went from Palm to Google. Android’s market share will continue to grow throughout the coming year and will overtake iOS for good. However, it will not be challenging Symbian’s market share for quite a while. Android will have to be content with being the second best selling OS.

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Chrome OS will start showing up on netbooks. However, like Android, adoption will see a slow start. Google will need tie ups with all the big manufacturers to have them install Chrome OS on netbooks. Consumers will be more difficult to convince, since for many Windows is synonymous with desktop OS. Chrome OS will have better chances on tablets than netbooks, and even then it will have to wait till many Asian countries get better networks to sell there.

Microsoft

Word’s on the street that Microsoft will announce Windows 8 at CES 2011. Steve Ballmer has said that the OS will be Microsoft’s biggest risk yet. It is believed that Windows 8 will have a go at the tablet space. Seeing how the failure of Windows 7 and the success of iOS have convinced many that a full desktop OS is not meant for tablets, Microsoft will have a lot of convincing to do if the rumors are true. Further, it faces still competition from the likes of Crome OS, Meego and Ubuntu 11.04 in the tablet space, not to mention the iPad and Playbook running proprietary OSes. Considering how long the development cycles of Windows are, Microsoft is unlikely to be successful in the tablet space with Windows 8. By that time the market will have already slipped away. Windows Phone 7 might be a better bet, but Microsoft has been adamant about not using it on tablets.

Windows Phone 7 will see firmware updates, but is unlikely to undergo any major changes. Seeing how the market has been slow to adopt the OS, they might want to increase their advertising budget. Of course, it will be useless if they spend it on ads like this.

Apple

Thanks to their slew of recent releases, Apple is not synonymous with innovation for many. Having revolutionized the mobile and tablet space, Apple might as well take a well deserved rest in the coming year. Its focus will be on improving what they already have.

iPad 2 has been leaked already and, like they did with the iPhone, it will include many new features, yet not so many as to make the iPad 3 a no-show. iPad will continue to dominate the tablet market in 2011, with Playbook, the Galaxy Tab, and maybe a tablet from Intel, being the only real competitors.

iPhone’s market share has peaked. Even though Steve has been adamant on a minimal use of buttons, he might do well to consider a QWERTY version of the iPhone. This will help sell it to all the text-addicted teens. Apple might also consider a cheaper version of the iPhone (iPhone nano?) to get more sales. If they continue with simply upgrading their existing version like they do every year, iPhone 5 will have little to add, except being 4G enabled. The rest of the hardware is already advanced enough (by Apple standards).

iOS, like every year, will evolve a little bit. The iPod line-up has been recently refreshed and will remain unchanged in the coming year.

Nokia

This is the company everyone should be keeping an eye on in the coming year. Nokia has made a lot of promises for the coming year.

To start with, Symbian is set to undergo a lot of changes in the coming year, mainly in the UI department. Now that the weird naming terminology of Symbian (^3, ^4) has been done away with and Symbian is firmly under Nokia’s control, the development will proceed at a much faster pace. Nokia will be dishing out updates as soon as it refines them, instead of waiting for 6 month cycles as was the case earlier with the Symbian Foundation. A new web browser, a better keyboard and a lot of UI changes will ensure that the bane of Symbian thus far – its UI – will no longer be an issue. The “Symbian is sooo old” argument might finally die.

A Meego smartphone is about to be released as well. Probably named the N9, the smartphone will be Nokia’s true attempt at foraying into the US market. With a UX that has been loved by everyone who’s seen it so far, it is likely that Meego will become one of the major players in the market. Meego will also make its presence felt on tablet PCs and netbooks.

Nokia has also confirmed they will be releasing a dual core smartphone in 2011. It will probably not be the first Meego smartphone, but we can never count out that possibility. With so much research going on in the Nokia Research Center, Nokia might introduce a totally new technology in their smartphones, as it has done many times in the past. Most probable is an improved touch screen.

Also, the Nokia Siemens Network is well on its way to building a Long Term HSPA Evolution network (yea, quite a mouthful, we know) in the US, in a tie-up with T-Mobile.

RIM

RIM has been slipping recently. Ever since it started trying to shift away from the enterprise image, it has been stuck somewhere where neither the teens nor corporate fully appreciate it. It’s like a silent kid – nice to have around, but won’t be missed when it’s gone.

Torch, which was supposed to be its big launch in 2010, was received coldly. Playbook, which RIM keeps saying will redefine the way we use tablets, has failed to capture anyone’s imagination. Blackberry OS 6, which they worked on for ages, didn’t stir up the market like it was expected to.

And with things in RIM looking no different, 2011 might continue to be as lackluster for Blackberry as 2010.

Other players

With its Palm acquisition, everyone has been wondering when HP will come out with a smartphone. There have been no announcements till now. One can only hope that HP manages to get the hardware right, something that Palm never quite managed to do. Since it has a lot more marketing power than Palm, WebOS might win a few hearts in 2011. However, it will have to hurry up, since the competition becomes tougher with every passing day. HP also has the tablet market to worry about.

Sony Ericsson might be on the verge of revealing its Playstation Phone. We personally have little expectations from it, seeing how similar it is to N-Gage 2.0.

Other Android phone makers like HTC, Motorola, LG, etc will continue to fight for market share with each other. Only Samsung, with its own Bada OS, will try to break away from the group. With the Wave selling as well as it did, Bada OS has gained a firm foothold in the market.

Intel will try to make a foray into the tablet market as well. It will also try to get other manufacturers to adopt its Atom CPU for mobiles running Meego.

We have a lot to look forward to in 2011. The market is about to change a lot more than it did in 2011. Most interesting to watch will be how the OS wars play out.

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