When analysts and bloggers look at the future of computing, mobile or otherwise, they often focus on hardware developments. Whether their enthusiasm is justified or not, people get excited about higher resolution screens, front facing cameras and dual-core processors. The majority of the growth experienced by the mobile industry over the last several years, however, can be attributed to the proliferation of software and services that take advantage of these increases in connectivity, computing power, sensors and battery life – not the hardware itself.
So, while a proclamation that, “4G phones with 3D cameras will become the norm in 2 – 3 years,” is a prediction that may possibly come true, it is disingenuous to say it without also discussing the software that will emerge to facilitate the trend.
That said, here are 5 emerging mobile hardware trends and the software that will drive them:
1. Near Field Communication (NFC):
Most of the press on NFC has gone to deals getting made between payment providers standardizing on a way for people to pay for goods with their phone. Mobile commerce, while potentially very lucrative for the key industry players, is a boring use of the technology. A more exciting use of NFC is for social interaction. Want to remember who you met at a networking conference? Fire-up the Bump app at the start of the event and let your device record everyone that stood next to you for a minute or more. Want to remember the friends you had drinks with last Tuesday? Launch the Facebook app and see who your phone auto-tagged that night.
2. 3D cameras
No one cares about 3D TV. People hate wearing 3D glasses and the programming available for 3D television is non-existent. Mobile phone manufacturers are jumping on the 3D bandwagon so that they can check an extra box on a spec sheet. But, I believe, 3D and more specifically 3D cameras are not a lost cause. 3D cameras provide the device with a new input sensor for spatial relationships. With two cameras it is now possible for a device to gauge the speed and placement of objects in an environment. Imagine a radar gun app for measuring the velocity of a baseball, an app that renders physical objects on a device in 3D or a Kinect-type game you play with your friends.
3. Low power GPS
GPS is still the most accurate location positioning sensor available on a mobile device. Unfortunately, the GPS sensors in today’s devices destroy battery life. 4 hours of continuous GPS usage will tear through a mobile phone’s battery. Apps that make continuous use of the GPS sensor like RunKeeper or TomTom are designed to be used only for a short period of time or while the device is tethered to a power source. Other apps like Google Latitude have only had limited success due in part to the amount of battery life required to run them all day. In the future, expect to see more apps and more use of apps that continuously, and privately, track your location.
4. Higher resolution screens
Architectural blueprints and medical imaging require very high resolution displays. Pad devices with high res screens will be the impetus for companies like Autodesk and GE to develop software that will enable professionals to easily carry soft copies of engineering and medical documents with them into the field. The same software would also allow these professionals to make annotations and share their thoughts with colleagues in real-time with little effort.
5. Greater processing power and capacity
Mobile devices are approaching desktops in terms of computing power and capacity. While it is unlikely that a mobile device will ever fully take the place of a desktop, the ability to perform more intensive computing tasks will become ubiquitous. Just this week Adobe announced a new version of their Photoshop product for the iPad. Photoshop has historically been an application that requires substantial computing power to use to its full potential. While it is doubtful a serious photography professional will replace their workstation for an iPad anytime soon, minor photo editing in the field, where time is a factor and mobility is a necessity, should become more commonplace.