Bus. Std: The Coming Age of Teleputers

My latest column in Business Standard:

George Gilder, a technology evangelist and author of the book Telecosm: The World After Bandwidth Abundance, coined the word teleputer many years ago. He thinks of it as a handheld device that’s a fully functioning personal computer, digital video camera, telephone, MP3 player and video player…Epitomized by the multipurpose cell phone handset or personal digital assistant, the teleputer is optimized for ubiquitous connectivity…[It] will be as portable as a watch and as personal as your wallet. It takes pictures or videos and projects them onto a wall or screen or onto your retina and transmits them to any other digital device or storage facility.

While the complete functionality of the teleputer as described by Gilder is still some time away, there is little doubt about the direction we are headed in. This is very important from the point of view of users in the emerging markets. For many, it is the mobile phone, rather than the computer, which will provide the first glimpse of the Internet and Web.

This is what Jonathan Schwartz of Sun said after his visit to 3GSM: The majority of the world will first experience the internet through their mobile phones. We sometimes forget that 10 times as many people bought handsets last year as PC’s. Round numbers, there were a BILLION wireless devices sold last year, and around 100 million PC’s. To that end, the odds are much higher you’ll watch broadcast broadband content on your phone than on your PC – and now that Nokia (and their peers) are the world’s largest camera manufacturers (just think about that for a moment), the odds are far higher you’ll even create broadband content on your handset…Another interesting meeting was with the CEO of Oberthur, who predicts we’ll see 1 GigaBYTE SIM cards by years end – that’s right, a Gig on an interchangeable SIM card. For extra credit, what happens when a significant portion of that memory is executable? That’s a mighty small computer.

Mobile Phones are also being hailed as the key for development. The Economist wrote recently (March 10 issue): Plenty of evidence suggests that the mobile phone is the technology with the greatest impact on development. A new paper finds that mobile phones raise long-term growth rates, that their impact is twice as big in developing nations as in developed ones, and that an extra ten phones per 100 people in a typical developing country increases GDP growth by 0.6 percentage pointsAnd when it comes to mobile phones, there is no need for intervention or funding from the UN: even the world’s poorest people are already rushing to embrace mobile phones, because their economic benefits are so apparent. Mobile phones do not rely on a permanent electricity supply and can be used by people who cannot read or write.

The Economist has got one-third of the story right. There are two more points to be considered:

  • Multimedia-enabled thin clients: Think of them as phones with bigger input/output capabilities and options to connect multiple peripherals. These thin clients will have the same internal specs as the phones.

  • Grid Services: There is a need for centralised applications and data storage. Because of the wireless connection, a cellphone can connect to the network. All the heavyweight lifting is done on servers.

    Thin clients and mobile phones will complement each other what is needed between them is seamless mobility. This is where the “virtual desktop” comes in — one can start reading a book on a mobile phone, and continue reading it on ones thin client, and then perhaps back on the phone. All of this is possible if the state (what the user is doing) is stored on the server.

    This is how commPuting (communications and computing) in emerging markets will look like in the future. Both the multimedia-enabled thin clients and tomorrows mobile phones are examples of teleputers. They have the potential to transform life and work. This is a world where each of us will have a personal device and networks will be ubiquitous. Bringing this world to life is where the next set of opportunities lie.

    What is inside todays desktop computer will move to the server and what is inside a cell phone will power tomorrows network computer. The networks will be IP-based. Voice will become yet another service over these digital networks. The mobile phone will be our constant companion, and will be complemented by the availability of network computers with large screens.

    Services will occupy centre-stage. From commPuting to computainment to communicontent, it will be a world that will converge at the back-end (server-side) but will diverge at the front-end (multiple devices). While there will be no convergence across these screens, the convergence will happen at the back-end with respect to the data store. We will have different views to the same set of data across these devices along with seamless mobility. Welcome to the age of teleputers and service-based computing.

  • Published by

    Rajesh Jain

    An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.