Mobile tech under Obama

During the next four years, mobile technology will undergo change you can believe in
  • Mike Elgan (Computerworld)
  • 10 November, 2008 08:49

We've just elected a new president. Barack Obama starts a four-year term starting January 20. There's no way to know how America and the world will change during this time. But we can see how mobile technology will change.

Think of what has happened in mobile technology during the last administration. When George W. Bush was re-elected four years ago, the world had never seen the iPhone, the netbook, 3G, Blu-Ray, the Amazon Kindle or Twitter. Back then, Facebook was for college students, Treo was the best smart phone (and couldn't run on Windows Mobile).

Of course, the president has little to do with all this innovation. Still, it's a meaningful way to mark time and take stock of how our culture is being changed by the most personal of personal technologies.

Because the rate of technological innovation always accelerates, we can expect gadget transformations during the next four years to advance even further than during the last. Here's what you can look forward to during Obama's first term.

Everything gets smaller, and everything smaller gets better. Laptops have already surpassed desktops in sales. Within four years, desktop sales will slow to a crawl while mobile computing sales will soar. Netbooks will go totally mainstream and offer an experience that approximates current high-end, full-size laptops. People will use netbooks like laptops and mobile phones like netbooks. Mobile phones will both capture and display high-definition video.

Mobile social networking will be baked right in to everything. Your mobile phone will use multiple technologies, such as GPS, tower triangulation and Wi-Fi network identification to constantly pinpoint your location. Social networking tools will always tell you when friends are near and always give you location-relevant search results, weather reports and real-time data.

Netbooks will be free. Tiny laptops will be given away as incentives to get people to buy other things. Banks will give them away instead of toasters. Wireless carriers will give them to you as part of your wireless plan.

Everything will have mobile broadband. By 2012, 3G will be the slow mobile broadband technology, and the better phones and wireless plans will be running at 4G speeds, which will approximate home DSL.

Mobile broadband ├╝ber alles. The ubiquity and performance of mobile broadband will push Wi-Fi to non-mobile uses, such as for businesses and home networks. For mobile computing, everyone will have very fast connectivity through their mobile phone carrier's data network. And everything will use it. Your in-car GPS -- and your car itself -- digital cameras, outdoor security cameras, your wristwatch -- all these things and more will communicate with the world via mobile phone data networks.

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E-books will challenge paper books. will dominate with future Kindles, but the biggest alternative will be reading on high-resolution mobile phones. The idea of reading on paper will become thought of as a quaint throwback to a bygone era, and used mainly by old rich people, especially for newspapers and magazines.

Live TV will become a thing of the past. Everyone will watch TV either in "clip" form on mobile phones, or high-def DVR recordings on their real TV. The use of live streaming content online and on mobile phones will rise, and the consumption of live TV will decline. Eventually, people will forget that TVs used to be live and online media used to be asynchronous. TV will become like music. Instead of getting the whole show (like you used to get the whole album), you'll watch TV segments a la carte.

Tablet PCs will work like the iPhone. The new iPhone-like desktops will be available for very deep-pocketed users, and applications will be limited. But tablet PCs, led by Apple itself, will have iPhone-like multi-touch user interfaces and find broad acceptance. Remember CNN's John King and his "Magic Map" during the election? Tablet PCs will work like that.

Mobile phones will eat more gadgets. Stand-alone media players and GPS devices will go the way of the dodo as all mobile phones handle these jobs brilliantly. Digital camera sales will start declining as camera-phone quality improves.

The mobile industry will be unrecognizable. Apple will dominate and compete mainly with Android-based phones. Palm will die. RIM, Motorola and Nokia will become also-ran companies because their respective core competencies will be commoditized and marginalized. Microsoft will be an also-ran in consumer mobile, but will do well in the enterprise.

Videoconferencing will go mainstream. Most high-end mobile phones will have a second camera on the front, so users can look at who they're talking to on screen while the camera beams their own visage to the other caller. Futurists have been predicting this since the 30s, and companies have been working on it since the 50s. It will finally happen when Apple puts a second camera on an iPhone some time during the next two years.

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The line between camcorders and digital cameras will be gone forever. You'll take video, and each frame of that video will be an ultra high-definition photograph. For digital stills, you'll be able to just browser your video and pick the frame you want.

Booting will get the boot. Look for instant-on to sweep the netbook market, then the notebook, then desktop markets. No more waiting!

We've adapted pretty dramatically to technologies during the last four years. The question is, with the evolution of mobile and digital technology accelerating, can we keep up and adapt to the radical transformations that will take place during President Obama's first term?

Yes we can.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Contact Mike at or his blog, The Raw Feed.