For several reasons, the mobile phone is set to become the most influential portable electronic device. Technology is one. While the constant improvement of every part of the modern computer seems now to have relatively little impact on the desktop, it is making a huge difference for the phone. You can now fit substantial processing power and a good deal of memory into your pocket, along with decent battery life.
With half-gigabyte memory cards now readily available for well under 50, some pundits have suggested we will soon carry round all our important data. When we find a computer, it will just be a device to manage the data we already have in a phone.
Maybe – but the phone itself will soon be powerful enough to do the job itself with perhaps some optional add-ons. Moreover, carrying the whole of your computer software in your pocket may be technically feasible, but the complexities imposed by the intertwining of hardware is liable to make this solution slow to progress.
Another factor is the desirability of connectivity. Wi-Fi hotspots are proving popular. But if you can remember it at all, the history of the Rabbit phone strongly suggests the ubiquitous network always wins out over the hotspot. 3G will improve bandwidth greatly and is likely to enable the operators to compete strongly against commercial Wi-Fi providers.
Microsoft seems certain to play a substantial role in the stationary systems, although Linux will also be important. Despite recent setbacks, Nokia has an immensely strong position in mobile handsets. Some handset makers are keen to work with Microsoft to create smart phones. Others will be chary, noticing the fate of many of the PC makers, including IBM.
Nokia has so far stuck firmly with software maker Symbian, while implementing links to the Microsoft desktop. Neither party has made much headway with providing tools to manage a large population of powerful computing devices that are constantly on the move. Innovation is needed and looks most likely to come from third parties that grab the opportunity.
If Microsoft wins, it will be the dominant force in a greatly expanded computing and communications environment. Nokia will be marginalised as a handset maker for the consumer who has only weak links with large organisations. If Nokia wins, the whole computing environment will be changed.