Technalysis Research
Previous Blogs

February 3, 2015
Sexiest New Devices? PCs...

January 29, 2015
Insider Extra: iPhone Next

January 27, 2015
How Will Windows 10 Impact PCs and Tablets?

January 22, 2015
Insider Extra: Hands-On (or Heads-on) With HoloLens

January 20, 2015
Whither Windows 10?

January 15, 2015
Insider Extra: Mobile Security: The Key to a Successful BYOD Implementation

January 13, 2015
Smart Home Situation Likely To Get Worse Before It Gets Better

January 6, 2015
More Tech Predictions for 2015

December 30, 2014
Top 5 Tech Predictions for 2015

2014 Blogs

2013 Blogs

TECHnalysis Research Blog Extra

February 5, 2015
Insider Extra: Is "Mobile Only" The Future?

By Bob O'Donnell

Earlier this week I attended ARM’s press event, where the company laid out an impressive vision for how mobile devices using ARM cores—essentially 99% of all phones and a majority of all tablets—will be evolving throughout this year and next. The company’s new Cortex A72 CPU, Mali T880 GPU and CoreLink CCI-500 system interconnect—all of which are scheduled to appear in 2016 products—offer impressive improvements in performance, yet are able to maintain the modest power requirements for which ARM-based devices are known.

The company made a point to talk about some fairly advanced applications running on smartphones, including content creation, 3D printing and more. ARM also highlighted how far smartphone performance has come since 2010, with demos of how much faster common activities are on phones from 2010, 2012 and 2014. In fact, the company’s press release claimed that CPU performance from ARM cores had increased an amazing 50x over the last five years.

All of the company’s comments and demos beg an important question. How far can smartphone performance be taken and can smartphones become the sole computing device that many people need? It’s a fascinating question, and one that needs to be looked at on many different levels.

From a pure computational performance perspective, we’ve heard countless times that we all carry the power of supercomputers in our pockets. So, debating whether there is or is not enough computing capability in a smartphone has essentially become irrelevant. Yes, there are tremendous CPU and graphics capabilities on smartphones, and when you add in always-on connectivity, thanks to cellular radios, it’s clearly a very capable computing platform.

However, there is more to a computing experience than raw compute—the input and output (I/O) capabilities are, arguably, equally important. Most obviously, the size of a screen associated with a computing device makes an enormous difference in the quality of the experience you have with that device. Even within the smartphone category, the rapid transition from 3.5”-4” screens (don’t they look like toys now?) clearly shows the desire that people have for larger, higher resolution displays. But even a 6” phablet can’t compare to a 13” notebook screen or a 27” desktop monitor (let alone a 55” TV!).

I know there are plenty of reports of people using their large-screen smartphones to do everything (particularly in parts of Asia), but is that because that’s all they really need and want? Or is that because that’s all they can afford or all that they can easily access? Everywhere I’ve been in the world, I see lots and lots and lots of large screens, and it seems to be basic human nature to want to see things (and work with things) on larger displays. Until we get to foldable screens, you simply can't fit a large display in your pocket.

In addition to the display issue, there are input capabilities that are possible (or not) on a small, touchscreen device. Yes, you can do an incredible amount of things on a smartphone, but there are plenty of applications, entertainment experiences, and information types that could use other input methods. It’s not just keyboards—although I continue to contend that they are one of our most underappreciated peripherals—but other types of I/O devices, including audio, pen, and other specialized offerings.

Smartphones give us the flexibility to bring a computing experience and information access tool with us at nearly all times, and there’s no question that this convenience is incredibly valuable. However, that still doesn’t mean there isn’t a very real need for other kinds of computing devices and computing experiences.

What I will say about the advancements like the ones ARM announced is that they do raise the issue of integrating things like wireless display options for connecting smartphone-sized devices to larger screens, or other wireless I/O options to a new level. I do believe that something like the ill-fated Motorola Atrix—a smartphone from a few years back that offered connectivity to larger displays and other peripherals—could be a very viable option in the not-too-distant future.

However, there are still a number of very large hurdles to overcome, including more agreements on wireless I/O standards, wider deployment of those standards in both devices and peripherals, and compatibility with operating systems and applications that match the wide range of people's needs. On one hand, you could argue that these concerns are easily overcome, but I think it’s these very issues that will prevent a “mobile only” computing world from becoming the mainstream choice for some time to come.

Here's a link to the original column:

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