Is it a phone or a Beowulf cluster?

I saw something on TV last night that really struck me. In fact, for a second I thought I was dreaming, as I had dozed off for a while. But I think it was actually real: an iPhone commercial that gave the ability to watch YouTube videos as a selling point.

Being the curmudgeon that I am, my initial reaction to this was, "Just what we need, another overly-expensive way to waste time." Now you can spend $500 to watch crappy home movies and/or blatantly pirated TV shows on a 3.5-inch screen, rather than paying $400 to watch them on a 17-inch screen. Personally, the only way I can tolerate watching videos on 19-inch wide-screen is if they're full-screen. The little embedded Flash viewer drives me crazy. Plus I was never able to get too excited about YouTube in general. It's a nice, well-designed site, but I'd usually rather have a podcast in the background while I work than stare at my monitor for half an hour.

But after thinking about it a little longer, what I found really interesting about this commercial is how the cell phone is dying out. In fact, I predict that by 2015, perhaps even 2010, there will no longer be such a thing as a cellular telephone. The mobile phone will be a thing of the past. People will look at them like they look at rotary telephones now, as a quaint reminder of how backwards we used to be.

Instead, the "phone" of the future will be like the iPhone, i.e. very small multimedia computers that just happen to have voice communication features. We're already part way there when you think about it. People are using their cell phones extensively for things like playing games, text messages (a.k.a. the poor-man's IM), taking and trading pictures, and listening to music. They've turned into PIM/multimedia appliances. Actual voice communication has become almost secondary.

The best part about this is the rate at which the technology to price ratio is increasing. When I got my first pre-paid cell phone seven years ago, it was about the size of a regular phone handset, rather expensive, and didn't do anything except make and receive calls. Then, four years ago, I signed up with Verizon and got two stick phones with biggish black and green screens, text messaging, calendars, and other simple tools for less than the one pre-paid. Two years later, for only slightly more than the two stick phones, I upgraded to two Samsung SCH-A670 camera phones with color screens, plenty of bells and whistles, and the ability to run BREW programs. Currently, I'm using an LG VX8300, which features, among other things, a 1.2 megapixel camera, an MP3 player, surprisingly good speakers, and a 1GB MicroSD slot to hold all that media. And once again, I didn't pay any more for this upgrade than for the last one.

In a few years, I'd love to have a phone powerful enough that I could use it to do actual work. Maybe something I could plug a roll-up keyboard into. Or maybe I could get something with a USB or FireWire port and an operating system with some degree of flexibility. Or maybe they can just invent a 4-inch laptop an put a phone on it! After all, that's practically what the high-end smart phones are. Now it's just a matter waiting for the prices to come down.

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Comments #

    future

    Is the future as you expected it to be?

    Actually...

    You know, it kind of is. Of course, the "using a cell phone to do actual work" part hasn't come to pass. And, honestly, I don't think it ever will - unless we invent a phone that can project a holographic keyboard and monitor, a la "Minority Report". It's more an issue of the physical interface than the technology.

    But other than that, I guess I pretty much got it. Cell phones have become mini-computers that just happen to have phones in them. Not that this was a particularly risky prediction, but I guess I can give myself that one. :)

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