Monday, March 15, 2010

The Mobile Internet: the Fourth Revolution

My name is Gary Braley. I've been writing and speaking on information technology as a developer and consultant in aerospace and healthcare applications for many years. I've been sending out a newsletter for six months (see February Issue) but I have so much to say I decided to try blogging as another outlet.

My Web Site is
and my LinkedIn Profile is

To kick this project off, I'm going to discuss one of the current "hot topics" -

The Mobile Internet
There have been three information revolutions: first was the adoption of digital computers beginning in 1960; second, the introduction of PCs in the 1980s and third, the spread of information through the Internet in the 1990s. We are now beginning the fourth revolution and it is happening faster than any of the others – the Mobile Internet.
For many years – “information access” meant being shackled to a desktop computer at home or in the office. Progress was made when portable computers were introduced – slowly at first – remember the Osborne I weighed twenty-four pounds.
As laptop portability improved, information normally stored in the office could be taken anywhere. Internet access in the 1990s made a major change in the way we communicate and retrieve information. Significant technology changes are often complex and stressful but the latest one is different. The Mobile Internet makes more information available anywhere anytime and – most importantly – is extremely easy to learn.
Until now, using a new program (application) involved

  • Evaluating the choices
  • Purchasing and expensive program
  • Struggling through a difficult installation process
  • Learning to navigate hundreds of - mostly unused - commands
  • Months of Practice
The current "app" approach is easier in every respect.
  • These programs are single purpose and often have less than ten commands
  • The user interface is intuitive and a few minutes of experimentation is adequate
  • Many apps are free and others cost less than five dollars
  • Purchase, installation and startup can take as little as two minutes
  • Upgrades are downloaded automatically
  • Apps can be used anywhere since they run on smart phones and tablet computers.
To understand what it changing, we need to look first at the equipment – the “gadgets”. Cell phones have evolved into powerful computers referred to as “smart phones”. Such a device with 32 gigabytes of memory could store the equivalent of ten million pages of text – in a “telephone”! The current revolution is a direct result of the “app” approach. Until now we’ve used very complex programs – browsers, word processors, etc. – to perform very simple tasks. Creating a page of text for a report should not require a word processing program with over a thousand commands. Typing an email message has been possible but not fun on most phones. Today, voice dictation is being introduced to smart phones allowing voice to text transcription that has the potential to eliminate most typing and the endless arguments about which keyboard is best.; no two inch keyboard is “good”.
The problem is complicated by the number of devices now being produced – most notably ebook readers, netbooks and tablet computers in addition to dozens of smart phones. To understand what is happening, it is important to know about these devices and how they are different and how they are the same. For example, the Apple iPad tablet has been called an overgrown iPod but it also can run sophisticated word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. You can read books on an ebook reader but also on a tablet and smart phone. How many devices do you want and how many gadgets do you need? Do you need a navigation device if your smart phone can navigate? Do you need a portable DVD player if a tablet can play HD video on a ten-inch screen?
Ebooks are creating a host of new problems. There are several incompatible ebook file formats. Even when it is theoretically possible to transfer books from one device to another, can you legally do it? Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology and law will be at heart of intellectual property disputes for years to come – remember illegal music downloads. While there are important questions and challenges, the fact that most text books will be electronic in the next few years will be a welcome relief to students, parents and schools alike.
Book, magazine and publishing industries will be turned upside down as print is replaced by electronic transmission. Most of us will be bystanders as questions are raised about who will pay and how the new model will be structured.
Blackberry and Nokia are the leading smart phone companies today but recent announcements from Google (Nexus Android phone) and Microsoft (Windows Phone 7 operating system) as well as increasing sales of the Apple iPhone could make a very different picture in the next two years.
This may all seem overwhelming at the present but that is because all companies see the future of the Mobile Internet and are struggling to keep ahead of or at least keep up with the “pack” as the transition occurs at lightening speed. The good news is that the direction is clear to most parties and you can’t make big mistakes with free, easy to use software.


  1. Nice recap of this seeming unseen "trend". Reminds me of a recent Wired article
    that described how light simple solutions win-out over the heavy complex ones.

  2. Brian - the Wired article was right on - thanks for providing the link. I'm going to reference it in an upcoming post about tablets and the iPad whose critics point to its list of missing features.
    Gary B