Mobile Computing

The face of mobile computing has drastically changed from laptops and PDA’s to cell phones and tablets that are intrinsically hooked up to the Internet.  There were a few hesitant starts in this directional change, e.g. Apple’s Newton, Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iPod and iTunes, and Apple/Motorola’s ROKR (the first cell phone to use iTunes for software synchronization; 2005)  While Amazon had a mechanism for downloads to its Kindle (software and books), Apple had to develop iTunes (first released in 2001) and grow its capabilities strategically towards cell phones and tablets.  When the iPhone was announced in 2007, iTunes was ready for it.

The contract that Apple negotiated with AT&T was as spectacular as the iPhone itself.  Apple got $10 a month from every iPhone customer’s AT&T bill. In addition, Apple retained complete control over the design, manufacturing, and marketing of the iPhone. Previously, wireless carriers dictated terms to the cell phone makers, treating cell phones as “throw away” devices to sell wireless services.  Now, very expensive, full featured “smart phones” could drive much better contractual agreements with the carriers.

The founding of Android Inc. in 2003, later purchased by Google in 2005, was another pivotal point in this mobile computing change.  While Microsoft was fumbling around with its “Windows mania”, Android developed (albeit slowly) into a force with which to compete with Apple.  Google brilliantly offered Android to the cell phone manufacturers with zero license fee.  This was reminiscent of IBM bundling MS-DOS (called PC DOS by IBM) and charging for CP/M (effectively killing the then dominant PC operating system.) This is the power of “free.”

In 2007, Google released most of the software under the open source Apache license, and formed first the Open Handset Alliance to further open standards for mobile devices.  Android itself was to be maintained and further developed by the Android Open Source Project (AOSP); although it is unclear the extent that Google funds AOSP.  In 2008, HTC offered the first Android device, the HTC Dream, for sale using Android 1.0.

As with the early days of PCs, applications are the name of the game for smart phones.  For a couple years, Apple had a huge lead on iPhone applications that were sold on iTunes.  Google pushed both Android application development kits as well as a market place for Android cell phone and tablet applications, both of which can be obtained on android.com. It didn’t take too long for there to be a significant number of Android based applications, and with this, an upward spiral of Android cell phone market penetration and an ever increasing number of Android applications.  In fact as both the iPhone and Android applications numbered in the several hundred thousands, the application issues wasn’t the number of them, it was finding what you wanted.  As a result, a number of other companies with web sites selling these mobile applications formed.

It was easy to see that with Google’s support Android based cell phones and other devices would overtake the iPhone in market share.  Similarly, Android based tablets will (or maybe already are) surpass Apple’s iPad in market share.

AT&T wireless usage approximately tripled in the first year of iPhone usage – despite offering a service that generated many user complaints.  This fact wasn’t lost on the entire wireless industry, and it rapidly improved its services, going from 1G to 2G, 3G, and now 4G each generation (“G”) providing more throughput to mobile devices.  The cell phone manufacturers produced equipment to take these wireless improvements, so that now pretty good video can be streamed to a cell phone for real time viewing.

The modern “mobile computing” era has arrived.

-gayn

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