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Mobile Computing May 13, 2016

Posted by gschroedermarquette in 2016 Trends.

While certainly not a new trend for 2016, mobile computing remains an important topic this year. Mobile computing continues to expand in scope to include not only more traditional items like laptops and smart phones—and the growth in smart phone usage alone is reason enough to consider mobile computing a trend—but now also includes other Internet connected devices like cars and wearables. This year mobile computing also seems to be encompassing more than just devices. Instead modern mobile computing can be thought of “as a primary compute platform” [1] where users can take their work (or connected leisure activities like games and social media) with them wherever they go regardless of the device they use to connect.

This ability to take ideas from place to place via a computing infrastructure that can be accessed from anywhere using any device really captures the still unfulfilled promise of mobile computing. Steps toward fulfilling that promise are what keep mobile computing a trend worth watching this year and will continue to keep mobile computing a trend worth watching for years to come. Steps toward fulfilling that promise also tend to blur the line between mobile and a couple of other trends: Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing. It is nearly impossible, today, to talk about any one of those ideas without talking about all three. It is my view that mobile represents the overall trend and IoT and cloud computing represent the mechanisms by which the ideal of mobile computing is realized.

Cloud computing represents the infrastructure behind true mobility. Mobile devices have existed, now, for decades. But thinking back to early personal digital assistants (PDA) and mobile computers, it is hard to think of them as “mobile” in the way that today’s smart phones are mobile. Early devices required files be manually transferred by the device owner from device to device. If a user forgot to transfer a particular file, that file remained inaccessible until the user returned to a device that contained that file. Today’s mobile environment is powered by cloud computing. The cloud infrastructure ensures that a user’s content is available wherever and whenever the user wants it.

The potential scope of cloud-enabled, mobile computing is hard to overstate. A study by the Kenan-Flagler Business School found that “1 in 3 millennials said that he/she would prioritize … device flexibility and work mobility over salary in accepting a job offer.” [2] Since millennials continue to increase as a demographic in the workplace, any trend that 1 in 3 of them consider important (especially more important than salary) is a trend worth watching.

Where cloud computing is the back end infrastructure of mobile computing, IoT is the front end device infrastructure. More and more devices are becoming Internet connected as creative engineers find new ways to insert ever smaller radios into devices that once functioned just fine without connectivity. Once exposed to the now-connected version of devices that used to function without connectivity, people will likely find it difficult to go back to the unconnected version. From a personal perspective, since purchasing a smart watch, I cannot image being motivated to wear a watch that only tells time and perhaps allows for the setting of an alarm. Why wear a watch that won’t give me directions, change the music playing in my car, read my e-mail, and perform a myriad of other useful functions? I just can’t see ever going back from a smart watch to a “dumb” watch.

Engineers will continue to find new and creative ways to connect devices to the Internet. Some of those devices will become the realization of today’s science fiction and some of those devices are likely to be things that even science fiction cannot currently imagine. And “devices” is a term best defined loosely. For example, Alphabet (Google) just filed a patent to implant the human eye with electronics. [3] If electronics can be added to something, it’s just a matter of time before a radio can be added, enabling Internet connectivity. Successful implementation of such technology would redefine the term “device” to include human beings.

By turning ourselves into connected devices, the true potential of mobile computing could be reached. Ideas could be accessed by nearly anyone from nearly anywhere nearly instantaneously. Once that ultimate ideal in mobility is reached, mobile computing may drop off the list of top trends in computing. But that ideal state, while moving ever more incrementally closer, is still likely remain unattainable in the near future. Until then, mobile computing is, and will continue to be, a trend worth watching.


[1] Lockhart, E. (2015, November). Experts predict 2016 enterprise mobility trends. Retrieved May 13, 2016, from http://searchmobilecomputing.techtarget.com/feature/Experts-predict-2016-enterprise-mobility-trends

[2] Kratz, H. (2013). Maximizing Millennials: The Who, How, and Why of Managing Gen Y. Retrieved May 13, 2016, from https://onlinemba.unc.edu/blog/geny-in-the-workplace/

[3] Hsu, J. (2016, April 28). Google Patent Reveals Vision for Cyborg Eye Implant – Lovesick Cyborg. Retrieved May 13, 2016, from http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/lovesick-cyborg/2016/04/28/google-patent-reveals-vision-for-cyborg-eye-implant/#.VzX2amP_Rps




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