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Summary:

The technologies of mobile have evolved at a breakneck pace, and we’re entering a place where conventional and mobile tech begin to merge for those in the mainstream. Devices that can be untethered from the desktop, while remaining connected at broadband speeds, will soon be expected.

Mobile revolution

I have been involved in the mobile world for years, and there’s never been a better time than the present for mobile technology. The major technologies of mobile have evolved at a breakneck pace, and we’re entering a place where conventional and mobile tech begin to merge for many, especially those in the mainstream. Devices that can be easily untethered from the desktop, while remaining connected at broadband speeds, will soon be the norm.

The move from desktop computers to notebooks has led one side of the mobile charge. Consumers appreciate all-in-one computers like the notebook, for the ease of use if nothing else. While notebooks are mobile computers, they really took off in popularity when consumers realized there’s nothing easier than hitting a single button and having the entire system up and running. As notebook pricing dropped, the more inevitable it became that they would surpass desktop systems in sales.

Notebook makers led by Dell , Gateway and HP saw the interest in notebooks begin to rise, and embarked on a new course to sell them. The volume sales mentality coalesced for the first time for notebooks — previously high-priced computers — and prices were reduced to move more notebooks than ever before. The companies soon found that selling a complete system in one box was easier than selling sets of components, and price wars began. When notebook pricing dropped low enough, consumers started buying more of them than the desktop computer.

Netbooks entered the scene quite recently, although it seems they’ve been around for a long time. While pricing certainly played a role in the popularity of the netbook, the portability also attracted buyers new to mobile technology. Many netbooks are purchased for home use, yet end up carried along for outside use due to the convenient size. Home users became new mobile users.

The rise of the smartphone was the other factor in the increased popularity of mobile technology. As the phone gained capabilities that previously existed only in computers, the benefits of computing on the go were exposed to many who hadn’t given it much thought. Almost overnight non-techies began computing while mobile, and on the smartphone. These folks began eying the notebook on the desk at home, and realizing how much use they could get by taking it with them when they left home. New mobile users were being created all the time as a result. Laptops in coffee shops could be seen more frequently, and in the hands of regular people as much as with working professionals. The mobile non-professional user began appearing everywhere.

Two smartphones can be credited with exposing mainstream consumers to the benefits of mobile computing. The BlackBerry invaded the enterprise in force, and as companies discovered the cost benefits achieved by deploying them to more of the staff, employees enjoying the technology realized it could be leveraged in their personal lives. The BlackBerry began appearing in consumer hands, and the mobile revolution had begun.

The Apple iPhone fanned the flames of the mobile revolution, as it was aimed squarely at the mainstream consumer. The appeal to the consumer for this new type of phone, combined with an effective marketing campaign by Apple, saw the iPhone appear in the hands of millions previously unexposed to mobile technology. It didn’t take long until these consumers realized the impact a mobile computer could have on their personal lives. This played a direct role in the rise in popularity of the notebook computer. Consumers are savvy people, and they simply need to be exposed to new technology to “get it”.

High speed connectivity has played a big role in the adoption of mobile technology. As more notebooks were carried around by consumers, Wi-Fi hotspots began to appear in a lot of businesses, and that got consumers familiar with tapping into the web outside the home. There is little doubt Starbucks played a major role in this process as word spread that if folks took their laptop to the coffee shop they could relax with a good beverage and get online. The stage was thus set for the appearance of mobile broadband that went with the user, and the next stage of the mobile revolution kicked off.

Notebooks began selling with integrated 3G connectivity, primarily to the enterprise at first. Consumers didn’t sit idly on the sidelines however, and soon began snapping up cheap laptops with this connectivity. The consumer, having been exposed to the “always connected” smartphone, started picking up cheap notebooks (and netbooks) in droves. The mentality began to change profoundly, from “wanting” constant connectivity to “expecting” it.

This change of mentality is currently underway, and will be the driver behind the acceptance of mobile tech going forward. While “3G” was previously a techie phrase, it is now commonly understood by the average consumer. Phones must have 3G, and mobile computers need to have it too. The consumer mindset has shifted dramatically, with the desire to have connectivity always at hand. This is a major shift in the acceptance of mobile technology, and there is no going back.

The next phase of mobile has already begun in the U.S., with an unlikely company behind it. Sprint has been able to resurrect a technology many (myself included) thought was dead. WiMAX was originally thought to be the wave of the future years ago when it first appeared. As it took a long time to roll out this technology in earnest, many felt it would never make an impact on the mobile scene.

Sprint has pushed the rollout of its WiMAX network in the U.S., and has smartly named it “4G” which appeals to the consumer now comfortable with 3G. The high speeds of 4G, coupled with aggressive pricing by Sprint, are beginning to expose consumers to connectivity like they have at home that always lives inside the mobile device.

As consumers get accustomed to having fast broadband always at hand, the mindset will surely shift from the wanting to the expecting stage. The 4G connectivity will soon not be a cool option with mobile gear, it is going to be expected. Providers are racing to get the next generation networks up and running, as they see this paradigm shift in consumer expectations.

The mobile revolution is now entering the next big phase with the appearance of the iPad. Connectivity (even through Wi-Fi) is in place to keep the iPad connected, and consumers are about to realize the benefits a simple web appliance can bring to their lives. They may use the iPad at home primarily, but we’re going to start seeing them all over the place.

The iPad is not a “real” computer, but that’s not going to matter to many. Consumers have long demonstrated that the gadget that is easy to use — and just as importantly fun to use — is well received. The fact that it is always connected in hotspots or via 3G is the final piece of the puzzle. The connectivity coupled with the appliance nature of the iPad will drive millions of sales.

The mobile revolution is in full swing, and there’s no stopping it. People are comfortable with carrying mobile gear around with them, whether that be phones or notebooks. The mindset has begun to shift from viewing this tech as just a way to get work done, to that of entertainment and leisure activities. The iPad is going to speed up this mindset swing, and make mobile tech a commonplace part of consumers’ lives. The perfect storm is about to hit.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

  1. You’re pretty much spot on in this article. I said the same in our “iPad Buyer’s Guide” (http://laptopmemo.com/2010/03/31/laptopmemos-ipad-buyers-guide-all-you-need-to-know/) on LaptopMemo before this was even published. Nice work, JK.

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  2. James,
    Do you ever find yourself using the Storm 2 anymore? Just curious what relevance it has, with everything that is out there currently.

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  3. on closer look, that might be the original storm.

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    1. It is the original Storm and I do use it from time to time. It’s my active phone on Verizon currently.

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  4. “…the iPad…a simple web appliance…”
    “The iPad is not a ‘real’ computer…”

    The joojoo is a web appliance. It boots right into a browser. The iPad is very much a real computer. Because Apple chose to limit running background applications to only system apps does not make it less of a computer.

    And pretty much everything else you said was obvious.

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  5. The smartphone is the computer!

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  6. I agree with you mostly, but saying the iPad is not a “real” computer is wrong. With upcoming 2Ghz ARM processors and multi-core iPads in the future their is no doubt the iPad CAN do anything a Windows PC can do. It just depends on how many apps and productivity tools get written for the new processor. If Microsoft wanted to they could port the entire Windows 7 source code to the Apple A4 processor, or any other ARM based machine. So the iPad is indeed a fully funtioning RISC based computer, while the intel X86 is an CISC based computer. Which is actually better is highly debatable.

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    1. I agree with you. That’s why the real was in quotes, to indicate that some say that but I don’t agree with it.

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    2. “while the intel X86 is an CISC based computer”

      While that was true back in the Pentium Pro days the x86 line has become more and more RISC like that you really can’t say they are CISC processors. Intel has brought the x86 architecture almost on par with Power processors. Yes, Power processors are still faster but it’s negligible when you consider the cost hence the emergence of the Intel Mac.

      The iPad and devices of it’s ilk will have more specialized application specific processors that allow it to be lighter, smaller and to consume less power but be responsive enough to do what we need to do from the cloud.

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  7. Android will be the ubiquitous mobile OS, what Windows is to desktop. It’s versatile, capable and accessible to the masses.

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  8. The Revolution of Mobile is due to one main thing: the willingness of people to spend extra for a data plan.

    Lifestyle (like teens)? Efficiency and Competition (workers)? Or just Spendthrifts? At ~$400/yr. in the U.S. (except for the lucky ones with the SERO plan or similar), it’s not trivial.

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  9. That was a great review of mobile history James. Except that Sprint didn’t name 3G for the sake of making it easy for the consumer to remember. (at least I don’t think so) I think they did it because a wireless organization, I forget which one, officially rated the speeds for the 4G specifications, and sprint saw that WiMax met the minimum requirement, and branded it 4G.

    I obviously have no idea why Sprint makes its decisions, but it probably wasn’t to make it easier on the consumer. At least not at first thought. Again, I really enjoyed this article and its the kind of work I have come to expect at jkOnTheRun.

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  10. Things are indeed looking good for mobile right now, but there’s still a very big problem I see here in the United States, and some friends in Canada say it’s even worse.

    That would be the carriers and their whole business model, of course.

    Subsidies, two-year contracts, locked devices, CDMA without anything resembling a SIM card, price-gouging for data if it’s a smartphone (doubly so if tethered!) or in the form of SMS text messages, and other such consumer-punishing practices are the norm.

    This has to change before always-connected mobile will truly take off, because anyone with an iota of financial sense isn’t going to get themselves into deep debt just to use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. everywhere they go.

    (Of course, I get by just fine with only Wi-Fi coverage that I don’t have to pay extra for…the Internet is nice, but I don’t want computing to get too overdependent on it lest I be stuck with a bunch of useless, unproductive devices if the connection gets cut!)

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