Thursday, September 9, 2010

A technology refresher - back to the basics

Many of the new technologies and “gadgets” we encounter today are related to the “Mobile Internet”. You’ve probably heard the term and have some vague notion what it’s all about. It can be embarrassing though, to ask questions in this area when everyone in the room seems to understand what’s happening – except you! Believe me, you’re not alone; most people have little comprehension of the dramatic changes that are occurring today – changes that will completely alter the way we work, play, learn and communicate in the very near future.
A little background
The Internet is a collection of millions of computers connected by a complex collection of cables. A set of programs - often called protocols - make these computers work together. The World Wide Web (the Web) is collection of files that are stored on Internet computers (called servers). These files can be viewed on your computer using a browser program and they are sent to your computer by a program called a Web server.
There are numerous programs besides the Web that use the Internet – an email application such as outlook would be one; file download using FTP is another non-Web application that uses the Internet. Incidentally, your computer can have a Web server installed allowing people all over the world to access files you want to share – you can host your own Web site and it is really not that difficult to do.
Now some basic definitions
A Feature Phone is a cell phone that can store your contacts, send and receive email, browse the Web, play music, etc. It comes with a built-in set of programs (called apps – short for applications).
A Smart Phone is a step up from a feature phone since you can easily install apps yourself. The Apple iPhone 3G released in 2008 was the first true smart phone but many others have been introduced since that time. The MobileBurn Web site contains a searchable database of recent phones. Apps on these phones use the Internet and may or may not use the Web. The important point is they are very simple to use and do not involve a browser – they connect directly to various Internet/Web services with the simple touch of a button.
A Netbook is a small, low powered, low cost laptop computer. They are light duty computers intended for mobile tasks including email and Web surfing. Their low powered processors can not handle video production and their small screens and keyboards also limit their uses.
An eBook Reader - or just e-reader - such as the Amazon Kindle is primarily used for reading books downloaded from the Internet. Their specialized “eInk” displays are said to be easier on the eyes than a traditional display for extensive reading. They are very lightweight and some can also surf the Web.
A modern Tablet Computer is a “real” computer since it has a general-purpose operating system and the basic hardware elements of a PC. The Apple iPad is the best know example at the present. Virtually every major electronics company would like to produce an “iPad killer” and there are announcements every week by somebody who will make one “soon”. Recently discussed and announced models have included smaller screens than the iPad, have been directed toward business more than consumers and are promoted for content creation and not primarily consumption. Most tablets discussed so far use smart phone operating systems but others will use a mobile version of Windows 7 to mimic a standard PC.
What Lies Ahead
·  Confusion will be rampant in the near term since it will be difficult to distinguish one category from another. Is a device with a five-inch screen a large smart phone or a small tablet?  As new devices come out, new categories will emerge as well.
·  The typical wireless data plan has allowed users unlimited data downloads for a fixed fee of $30. That will change soon since smart phone and tablet usage is overwhelming the infrastructure of the carriers. Some are already moving toward “tiered” pricing where you pay for different levels of capacity.
·  Many of the specialized “gadgets” we have today will be “rolled into” smart phones and tablets. You will no longer need basic cameras, GPS navigation devices, MP3 and DVD players, calculators and a host of other devices since these can easily be incorporated into smart phones and tablets.
·  Since tablets are general-purpose devices, they pose a serious threat to both netbooks and ebook readers.
·  Just as a few companies have dominated the PC industry, it is likely that many smart phone and tablet makers will be knocked out of contention in the next few years; Investors and consumers are already placing their bets.
·  Speech recognition will be widely used to dictate text, search the Web and perform other basic data entry tasks. Versions available today are very accurate, easy to use and inexpensive. Users will find that the best keyboard may often be no keyboard.
The new world of the Mobile Internet is here and the fast pace of change occurring now means our information society will be completely remade in ways we can barely imagine today.

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