The Next Step In The Evolution of The Mobile Industry?

December 7, 2012 - Written By Doug Scudder

As we mentioned earlier today, the consumer electronics industry is a whirlwind of change and has been for the last twenty years. The home computer industry has sought to focus consumers on everything from the size of their hard drives  to the number of cores in their product’s processor. The smart phone industry has had a similar evolution. The device wars were originally focused on the capabilities and features of a smart phone that differentiated it from its “dumb phone” predecessors. The ability to browse the web, download movies and music, and the number of compatible apps were all prominently displayed in advertising across the industry. But recently, as the smart phone market approaches saturation here in the United States, superiority has been all about the number of cores in the phone’s processor. Qualcomm, Nvida and other mobile chip companies have brought powerful, efficient mobile processors to the market and have begun to build brands around the processors themselves separate of the device they inhabit. This is comparable to what Intel has done with it’s “Ultrabook” and “Intel Inside” branding efforts. Developing loyalty among consumers gives chip manufacturers the opportunity to sell their processors to even more OEMs at higher prices.

But even as quad-core processors are working their way into an increasing number of smartphones around the world, its hard not to wonder what is next for this enthusiastic young industry. Undoubtedly the number of cores in a product will continue to play a part. NVIDIA already has a 5th ”stealth core’ that will perform mundane, simple tasks and save the heavy lifting for the remaining four cores. The key feature of this new technology is not really focused on speed though, it is actually emphasizing battery life. Longevity will be the next great hurdle for the mobile industry to overcome. Lithium-ion batteries are nearing the physical limits of the size-to-power ratio that this technology will allow. Lithium-ion batteries are also much more sensitive to temperature and moisture than most consumers are aware.  Leaving your phone in a car during the summer can shorten the capacity and life of a battery considerably. And the economic impact of throwing millions of these acid-filled hunks of metal and plastic into landfills around the world is just beginning to reveal itself. But despite our demands poor battery life is probably the most common complaint among smart phone owners right now. Most of us are lucky to get through a night out on the town without seeing our phone’s power wither away. But while consumers have yearned for better battery life, we also refuse to compromise on performance and features. Can a company like Samsung or Motorola step up and give us the efficient, thin, powerful devices that the next generation of smart phone consumers are looking for? Time will tell.

As the mobile industry struggles to give consumers the battery life they want, other features will become deciding factors in many purchasing decisions as well. Certainly the trend towards increased productivity on mobile devices will continue. Microsoft will be releasing the full Office Suite for Android and iOS (allegedly) next year, bringing the full power of programs like Excel and Word to a wide range of smartphones and tablets for the first time. Bluetooth keyboards, voice recognition, and laptop docks are also technologies with potential to turn the computers in our pockets into productive computers in our pockets. A better, more desktop-like browsing experience is also on the horizon as Chrome and other browsers seek to unify their experience across all types of devices.

High quality graphics are another frontier that companies like Qualcomm and NVIDIA are destined to conquer. The GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) on a modern smart phone is a marvel of modern technology. NVIDIA’s Tegra line has marketed this feature successfully by sponsoring the development and sale of games that are specifically designed to run on the Tegra 2 or 3. My Transformer came with the Tegra Zone pre-loaded, and I must say that the water effect in Rip Tide took me by surprise. NVIDIA’s experience and reputation among PC gamers has serve Tegra well as its processors have pushed the boundaries of what mobile gaming is capable of. Many experts are expecting the gap between console and mobile gaming to all but disappear in 2013.

High-powered graphics aren’t any good without high-tech screens to display them in all their glory. In the past PPI (pixels per inch) and resolution have been popular statistics used to describe the quality of most screens. Apple spent millions advertising the Retina display’s 326 PPI. But HTC surpassed that when it came out with the Droid DNA which features 440 PPI. With more and more impressive games and higher quality video available for consumers to download and stream, the responsiveness, clarity and brightness of a device’s screen will continue to be a defining factor.

How will these technologies affect your life? Our emotional connection to our devices can only become more pronounced as they become more and more useful to us. If you don’t think that you see your phone as an extension of your body, try letting someone you just met hold it. Just like a woman’s purse or a man’s wallet, these accessories have become part of us. Most people have become more than tethered to our smartphones, we are now dependent on them. I recently moved here to Chicago and I can’t imagine trying to navigate a new city without Google Navigator/Maps. I don’t know how I would eat if it weren’t for Grub Hub and Aldi’s Android apps. And without constant access to social media, texting and messaging features, it would have been difficult to develop a social life (by the way, don’t forget to check out the AH Ingress Show going live tonight [Friday] at 9PM!).  More and more of us are purchasing Christmas presents, booking flights, and organizing our thoughts and lives on our mobile phones. Our handsets can interact with our cars, our home security systems, and even our TVs. And as these devices become more powerful we can expect them to continue to solve problems we didn’t know we had. I can’t wait.