In 2003, BlackBerry turned the cellphone into the first generation of smartphones by combining email support with cell phone technology—one device functioning as both PDA and mobile phone. In 2007, Apple created the second generation. The iPhone took the market by storm with its touchscreen and streamlined user interface. It merged the smartphone, camera, and music player into one powerful and unified consumer device, elevating smartphones to new heights.
The Gap between Desktop and Mobile Platforms
In less than a decade the smartphone has become ubiquitous, and now the third generation of mobile devices is evolving. The Galaxy S4 has a 1.9GHz quad-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, 64 GB of flash storage, and a 1080 x 1920 pixel screen resolution. Comparable with today’s mid-range laptops and desktops, that’s enough computing power to meet the needs of most business users. As much computer as phone, it is an essential business tool, operating in tandem with PCs, enterprise software systems, and networks. But a gap exists between desktop and mobile platforms. We bridge it as best we can by carrying multiple devices and using desktop and mobile software to access content and applications at work and on-the-go.
However, the gap between the mobile and desktop experiences also presents opportunity. Two very different companies are using two very different approaches. One is taking the desktop paradigm and adapting it to mobile. The other is starting with mobile and morphing it to the desktop. Both mark the evolution of the third generation smartphone.
When it released Windows 8, Microsoft came under fire for making radical changes that left its core user base bewildered. Nevertheless, reconstructing Windows for mobile was a bold and challenging move. The new release has remnants of its classic desktop, and version 8.1 will bring more of those back, but Windows 8 has made meaningful progress in integrating the keyboard and mouse metaphor with the mobility metaphor. In another few years, it will be totally optimized for mobile.
Ubuntu, a Linux-based operating system, began with mobile. Ubuntu phones can provide a full desktop experience simply by docking with a monitor and keyboard—they describe a phone running their mobile OS as a “superphone that’s also a full PC.” Only ten years after the introduction of the first BlackBerry smartphone, we have the hardware and software to replace a PC with a pocket-sized phone.
Impact of Third Generation Mobile Devices
The third generation of mobile devices will have a profound impact on software development. As the gap between mobile and desktop closes and people begin to use their smartphones as their primary computing device, operating systems and applications will become ambidextrous. A smartphone will have to act as a desktop when plugged into a keyboard and monitor, and then seamlessly switch to the mobile paradigm when unplugged. Software applications will present a user interface and experience that is optimized to the modality under which the device is being operated. It is this ability to adapt to multiple modalities that will transform today’s software applications and power the next generation smartphones that double-up as computers that fit in our pocket.
While Microsoft is redesigning the desktop for mobile, Ubuntu is morphing the smartphone into a desktop. How long will it be before we have fully functioning third generation devices that close the gap? And which approach will get us there first?
How does this impact how we think about mobile and desktop development here at Syncplicity? That will be the subject of my next blog. Stay Tuned!