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Friday, January 14, 2005

Future Fone - Part II. Basic Questions and Killer Apps

I think the most basic question we have to ask regarding this future fone is what kind of operating system it will use. Remember that we're only talking five to ten years out.

For a platform that will serve as your main general computer - with the processing power, RAM, and storage of, at the very least, today's desktops - is something like the Symbian OS a viable possibility? Symbian has great utility for small, flash based devices of relatively low power. That's the whole point of this OS. But it's obvious that, when it comes to devices with the specs and functionality of today's PC, Symbian is not the OS best suited.

As the PC transitions into this new form, it seems pretty clear that it will take with it, in some way, one or all of its three current operating systems: Windows, Linux, and, maybe, Mac. So my first prediction is that Nokia will abandon Symbian and the consortium will dissolve. Maybe not in five years but definitely in less than ten.

The thing that will drive the development of this technology is obviously applications. Among them, increased internet usage from the mobile, including the development of Virtual Private Networks, first for companies, then for the home. Also, video and TV. Maybe the device will have functionality similar to the TiVo.

And then there is GPS. Right now you can use your smartphone for GPS - in conjunction with a GPS receiver. Is there any reason why, in the very near future, that receiver couldn't be built right into the fone?

The truly killer app, though, may be this: Eventually I think we'll see carriers getting into the credit business, or partnering with credit card companies. In South Korea they're already doing something like this, and it adds a whole new profit center to the carrier's portfolios.

In other words, your fone will become your wallet, maybe even your pocket change. How difficult would it be, I wonder, to put this technology in place? You step on to a bus and run your fone across a scanner, which then issues a receipt. At grocery and clothing stores, at restaurants and theaters - pretty much at the entire retail level - this could be made to happen, and quickly. (Those who are old enough might remember when IBM's barcode scanning technology appeared, in the space of a few weeks, at most retail outlets.) Doing this will necessitate entire industries getting on the bandwagon for it. But IBM has already shown it can be done.

As for the word "fone"? This is what I propose as a generic name for these devices. Is that lame? Just as with today's smart mobile handhelds - even more so - its use as a "phone" will be only a small part of what it does (even though most of its functions will depend on telephony) - and yet, as they do now, people will persist in calling it that. Why fight it? Since it really isn't a phone anymore - but people will say it is - let's call it "fone" - to differentiate it from yesterday's phone - and be done with it. You heard it here first.

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