Preludes to the PC-Free Generation

I have to hand it to Ricky, his latest post asking whether we are on the verge of a PC-free generation has me thinking… maybe I’m not pushing far enough.

I’ve ruminated on this idea of using a mobile device as your main PC probably too many times, and yet there is always this portion of doing so which isn’t quite there yet. Much of this is alluded to within Ricky’s article, but I’d like to shed some light on things since I pretty much live on my Nokia N97 (mainly), with a few other mobile devices (iPad, X6, etc.) and the mobile web playing as spokes towards how I get life done.

Battery Life
The first item he speaks to is battery life, and I will say that this is probably the number one issue. Yes, when you are using a mobile/smartphone as a notification and occasional response/navigation device the battery life of many current devices is suitable (for one day, and one day only). But, when you start doing things such as connecting that device to a keyboard and larger screen for writing/editing/creation settings, or your use is heavy into video, photography, and/or web while crossing several types of wireless networks, you really see this idea of living mobile(-mainly) as something hard to get past when you can’t hold a sufficient charge.

Now, can you have a device that takes an extra battery? Sure. But, that’s not really a convenience. Ideally, it would be great if devices of a reasonable size integrate self-charging methods such as wireless charging or solar panels behind the display screens which are able to use natural and artifical light to trickle charge devices. This technology is here and far away at the same time, and the cost into devices just isn’t worth bringing them to market right now.

Mobility/Content Portability
Content portability was Ricky’s second point and the one that I grapple with the most. There are a few issues here and its not necessarly the fault of mobile devices – content providers need to do a much better job of brokering you and your data instead of trying to own you and your data. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some nice efforts made here (OpenID, Facebook Connect, Google Account, Opera/My Opera, Firefox Profiles, and Windows Live all come to mind). But you are locked into a service provider, and therefore using the best of any of those services is an administration hassle (you essentially are an operator and they are the communicators, ew).

In a situation where your mobile is your main device, there should be some effort to take some of the hardware and information we already have, and then leverage that into this profiles which then call information we need or want to share. For example, the SIM card should contain a mobile web server, and the user should be granted access to store any OpenID/Facebook Connect/PayPal, etc. authentication certificates there to which they can use to authenticate their devices to those services. Content applications such as calendars, contacts, and messaging would be built so that API authentication methods could be used in concert wtih this SIM-powered MWS ID server. And since the SIM is tied to the carrier, the carrier can offer server gateway or even CMS solutions such as on-device photo galleries, LBS services, etc. which keeps their pipes happy and smart.

The user should never have to wonder if they can use a service, they should only wonder if they’ve authorized the service to have access to them via mobile, and then provide the content as requested, making their money off of the analytics they gather (I know, ideal as all get out).

The third point Ricky brings up is connectivity. I’d like to take that into a different direction – living mobile(-mainly) means that I should not have to determine what type of connection I’d need, nor should people trying to communicate with me have to guess at what I will respond to.

It is well past time for devices (and their applications) to be a lot smarter about how they use the available Wi-Fi and cellular connections. If carriers would like to off-load device loads (bandwidth and signaling), then provide manufactuers the tools and intelligence needed to create devices antennas which will adapt to the network demand without user input. I should not have to get two network disconnected notices in the evening because a cell is overloaded and I have Wi-Fi available for the call; switch to the best network and let the call go through seamlessly.

On the other side of that, it is more than possible to use address books on all mobile devices which respect and adapt to the status of the receiving mobile device. If a person is noted at home and my device knows I’m sleep (I use Nokia Bots for intelligent mapping of these things; hence, my device knows this, does yours), then flip the voice call to an MMS (voicemail needs to be depreciated). If its noticed that I’m at work and in a meeting, instead of email, convert it to an SMS or vice versa. We are well past the time of using a best-guess method for connectivity, and networks are able to do this now in their current conditions (before LTE and all IP networks).

Prelude, But Nearing that Moment
There is still a ways to go. I am typing this on my mobile, via an application made with web frameworks – because its a connected app, this means I can utilize the network to my advantage. What I can’t do is take this content, once its posted, and have it work for me – I have to use other manually setup services in order to make this content portable enough to use again somewhere else. This really should be a wiki post, made publically viewable, hosted on my mobile, backed-up with a 3rd party or carrier service I am monthly billed by, and have the ability to mashup APIs to Twitter and other services as needed (almost possible with current mobile web server).

As both users and developers begin to understand that the next steps for mobility are contextual in application, not simply smaller, faster hardware with a tepid app store, and micro-charged services to to see your call log in a different gradient, we’ll get to that point where being PC-free isn’t just something thought of by a few, but engaged in by the majority.

Don’t get me (or Ricky) wrong. It is coming very soon that we in more affluent areas will not just be able to do more things on a mobile device, but we will have to. The Japanese and South Koreans have proved as much, and many of my friends who aren’t so affluent keep pushing the envelope.

But, it will have to happen first for us who are on this edge, who have the imaginations to try something different, and play with the pain points until mobile becomes truly free and pleasurable.

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