Just as the functionality and use of PCs was completely transformed with the emergence of the Internet, so it will be with mobile phones. We are at the start of a revolution that will have far reaching implications. . .
When I accessed the Web through my mobile phone and configured the e-mail application to access my corporate e-mail account, I felt the same sense of exhilaration that I had felt when I first browsed the Internet more than a decade ago.
But until six months ago I had not considered my mobile phone as anything more than just a communications tool that I used to make and receive voice calls. This has changed quickly due to four reasons.
First, I bought a Nokia 6600. Second, I got a Rs 99 GPRS connection and started reading RSS feeds on my phone. Third, I downloaded and played my first game. And fourth, I upgraded to a Rs 499 GPRS connection which allowed me Web access.
Thus the mobile phone became the third screen in my life. A person's life generally revolves around three screens. The television screen that provides us our entertainment. The computer screen that provides us interactivity for running applications, accessing information and services. And finally there is the mobile phone screen.
In India, the most widely available screen remains the TV. There are about a 100 million TV sets across India and much of this growth has happened in the past fifteen years. TV is something we watch at a distance. Programming on the TV is decided by the channels and distributed by the cable operators.
The second screen in India, in chronology of appearance, is the computer. It has about 14 million to 15 million users. But computers have been limited in their growth for a variety of reasons of which affordability and desirability have been two primary factors.
Computers are growing at the rate of over 4 million a year now as the reduction in duties and increasing competition is making them more affordable. But still the second screen remains more of a 'top of the pyramid' luxury.
Contrast this with the third screen to enter our lives. In 2004, we bought over 20 million mobile phones and growth in 2005 is likely to be even higher in unit sales. At present, one in twenty Indians has a mobile phone. It will take less than two years for the current base to double. It is increasingly clear that in emerging markets, most users will experience the mobile phone's screen at least a year before they experience the computer screen.
This has some very interesting implications for the future.
According to an article on Silicon.com, "For several reasons, the mobile phone is set to become the most influential portable electronic device. Technology is one. While the constant improvement of every part of the modern computer seems now to have relatively little impact on the desktop, it is making a huge difference for the phone. You can now fit substantial processing power and a good deal of memory into your pocket, along with decent battery life. With half-gigabyte memory cards now readily available for well under £50, some pundits have suggested we will soon carry round all our important data. When we find a computer, it will just be a device to manage the data we already have in a phone."
The question that arises is: will the mobile phone become the next platform like the computer? This, according to me, is a narrow question and focusses only on the device. What is important is to consider a view of the world that is based around services rather than devices.
In that context, I don't think it is possible to think of the mobile phone in isolation from the rest of computing, communications and content.
Plus, mobile phones have already started functioning as more than just communications devices. Already, mobiles serve as watches, alarm clocks and calculators. The address book and contacts list on phones is our social interface. The calendar function on the mobile phones helps us track our lives. Phones can also function as radios. For some, the mobile phone also becomes a notepad. Owners also tend to customise phones with their own ringtones, themes and wallpapers. This makes the mobile phone the most personal screen of the three.
While the predominant use of mobile phones remains for voice communications (about 90%) they offer many more features. SMS has caught the fancy of the youth. There are more value-added services such as downloadable Internet games.
In addition some of the more advanced mobile phones also offer facilities such as the digital camera, the audio recorder, the video recorder, multimedia messaging, e-mail client, Web client, gaming platform, documents viewer and MP3 player.
And if you look around at most of the advertisements from handset makers, the focus is always on what else you can do with the phone. The game has just begun.
Very soon mobile phones will also be able to offer even more services such as music streamed from the Internet or the avaliability of TV channels over next-generation networks like EDGE. The mobile phone will also be able to pay for purchases like a credit card. There is already a billing relationship that exists between the subscriber and the operator, and that can be used to make payments to merchants. Or consider the use of the phone as a barcode reader that can have very interesting applications in commerce.
With a remote desktop application, it also becomes possible to make the mobile phone a window to one's computer. So what is inside today's desktop computer could move to the server and be accessed by the cell phone. The networks will become IP-based and voice will become another service over these digital networks.
What I see happening is integrated access to personal data across the three screens that are present in our life. Thus, there will be convergence at the backend with respect to the data store but there will divergence at the frontend with multiple devices to access the same data.
Here what will matter are the services that are delivered to the users. So there will be service-centric computing, which is a form of computing more focused around the user's real world rather than the cyberspace.
By actually separating the storage of data from the service functions, service-centric computing makes the data more accessible. It has a common backend to store the user's context (time, place, information, people). It then allows a user to do five actions independent of device on the same data store. These are: publish (write), subscribe (read), search, alerts and share.So the phones of tomorrow will be remote controls for our life. They will come with bigger, better keyboards and displays. Networks are becoming faster too. Countries like Japan and South Korea already lead the way in having multipurpose mobile phones. China is following and India is not far behind.
Rajesh Jain is managing director of Netcore Solutions Pvt Ltd.
Published with the kind permission of The Smart Manager, India's first world class management magazine, available bi-monthly.