10 May

The mobile handset as a platform for solving complex computational problems

Today I saw a short video that shows how powerful the mobile handset continues to become, in this case solving a Rubik’s Cube in seconds by using image capture, advanced algorithms and a powerful mobile platform, a Motorola Droid. The Droid is based on the TI OMAP 3430 application processor which is based on the ARM Cortex A8 processor.

Update Jun/7: Video is back! Update 05/12: Wired Gadget Lab reported that the video has been temporarily removed by ARM to make some changes and that it is expected to be back online by 05/14

This video triggered some thoughts about the future of the mobile handset as a platform to solve complex computational problems…

Imagine a future where battery consumption and/or network coverage were not an issue as today, and where sets of mobile handsets can be federated in real-time; hundreds, thousands or millions of handsets, as they become available or not (on the network), all working “together” to solve specific complex computational problems, in a similar fashion to how SETI @ Home uses millions and millions of idle CPU cycles from thousands (millions?) of PCs from around the world.

Let’s look at a relevant scenario. While there are millions of Facebook users there are billions of mobile handsets/users; now imagine a time in the future where most of the handsets are powerful-enough to solve the relevant parts of “their” social graph; millions of individual handsets solving their owner’s social graphs in real-time as it changes, then all stitched together somehow on the edge (the handset) or centrally on the network.

“Availability” is what precludes this vision of mobile-based distributed computing from happening; either because the handsets are not powerful-enough today or because of lack of connectivity due to issues related to battery, network coverage or IP visibility; but these limiting factors will go away, in the future.

The mobile handset is becoming so powerful that what I described above might be closer to reality than what we think.

The OMAP 3430

Source: Texas Instrument | Click to Enlarge


(Via FoneArena)

01 Oct

On hardware vs. software-based handset differentiation

Is mobile handset differentiation based on hardware coming to an end?

Back in 2007 I wrote a piece on my blog titled: The future of handset design: from hardware to software. And today this is getting more real (and validated) than ever.

When it comes to mobile handsets the rate of innovation introduced via hardware (HW) vs. sofware (SW) is and will be mainly on the SW side.

Differentiation, especially on common platforms (such as Android), will be primarily driven by SW, this is: Innovation on UIs and interface paradigms (on Android we can see this with the introduction of Moto Blur and HTC Sense), better applications (developer ecosystem adding lots of application that in turn adds to the usefulness of the handset), and better services (some phones will be very good at social things, while others at music, and so on). At the end it is SW what makes the handset more dynamic and useful and different.

Today is a great time for those doing R&D in the areas of Human-Computer Interactions (HCI).

Differentiation is necessary. But typically differentiation drives fragmentation. So the follow-up big question is on the fragmentation introduced by the different UI paradigms. Will applications need to be adapted to each new paradigm (i.e. as in many versions?). Yes, very likely.

Developers writing SW for the iPhone only have one paradigm to worry about. On the Android though, as expected we are seeing different UI paradigms (with related APIs) but fortunately the rest of the platform should remain consistent across manufacturers so fragmentation is hopefully localized to the UI only. For mobile Java (beyond Android) fragmentation is yet to be solved. For mobile web and widgets, the same although I am seeing a lot of noise around the JIL Widget SDK.

Fragmentation across platforms will continue. Fragmentation within a single platform shall be localized to the user interface (or the user interactions). Allowing for the UI to be redefined/reconfigured allows for incredible innovation on human to machine interactions which basically redefines the perception for a given handset. The next best thing is re-configurable software and hardware, but for that you will have to go play with platforms such as Bug Labs (which BTW is an extremely cool platform).


(Images sources: PopSci, Nokia, HTC Phones, Benzinga)

28 Jun

Feature vs. Smartphone

Feature vs. the Smart-phone. That is the question. There is no straight answer; the lines are blurring too fast. At the end, your definition might be different from mine:

Both Feature and Smartphones support voice and data capabilities, including multimedia audio and video, camera, gaming, high-speed networks, GPS and advanced user interfaces. Both are programmable. And both are updatable on the field. While the line that separates Feature vs. Smartphones is become thinner over time, Smartphones are considered more advanced and are more like a portable Internet computer with voice capabilities, as opposed to the Feature phone which is seen as a programmable cell-phone device with data capabilities. Compared against Smartphones, the Feature phone is typically Java or BREW-based, while the Smartphone has an advanced operating system and corresponding development environments.


05 Nov

What will drive differentiation across Android platform providers?

The Android platform is an open platform, governed by the Open Handset Alliance (OHA). OHA has many members, and today it includes seven network operators and four handset manufacturers.

While the platform itself should be consistent across vendors/providers, thank God, I wonder what will be the differentiation challenges that handset manufacturers and network providers will face?

The handsets will all be capable of (from the S/W perspective) the same things, so will differentiation come purely from hardware design, for example, better handset footprint, layout, screen sizes, better battery consumption?

Or perhaps differentiation will come from the cost of ownership, as in monthly cost for voice/data/text plans?

Maybe it is all the above.

But I think a big part of this battle be in the User Interface. While the concepts of workspaces, and how S/W and UI is designed and written will or should remain consistent across platforms/vendors, we will see a plethora of UI designs and information architecture/organization. Is this a good thing? In theory it is, as it will allow for better and neater UIs and related innovation. I’m not sure yet the impact on the development and testing of Android applications… Also, will that UI innovation and differentiation make it back to the open source tree? Not sure yet, but I will find out soon, but my guess today, probably not.

Access to content and integration with the Web, which is based on applications and services, should be another differentiator. Integration to Google services have proven to be a winner, but Google services probably will be available to all Android platform vendors, providing no differentiation across Android vendors.

So differentiation between Android vendors will be a challenge, a challenge the iPhone doesn’t have, as there is only one iPhone vendor (and platform, unless you go across classes of iPods).