Predicting the Mobile Future

Many people have been asking me about my predictions for the future as far as the mobile platforms go.

I thought I would take a moment to write up a blog post detailing out what I think we will see in the next couple of years for mobile phones and tablets.

Windows 8 changes everything

Or at least it has the potential to.

There are quite a few game changers built into Windows 8 that have a huge potential to influence and disrupt the market.

One OS for mobile and desktop

The idea that Windows 8 will essentially run on mobile and desktop is going to force the hand of other platforms.

I really like my iPad, but it could never be a total PC replacement.

Now imagine what happens if I can have an iPad, but it can snap right into a keyboard to make it into a laptop and it is running an OS that can do everything I need.

Suddenly I have to question why I need a separate iPad.

PC manufacturers have been chomping at the bit to break into the tablet market for some time now. It was a slap in the face for Apple to produce the first generally accepted “good” tablet after so many PC manufacturers had tried and failed for years earlier.

We can learn a lot from a tablet

What makes the iPad so good?

In my opinion, 4 things:

  1. Extremely portable and lightweight
  2. Good touchscreen input, so I don’t need a physical keyboard most of the time
  3. App store!
  4. Instant on

There isn’t even a need for a Windows 8 tablet. Instead, I predict we are going to see Windows 8 Ultrabooks with removable keyboards.

As long as this new class of computers can hit the 4 items I like about the iPad, it could really cause some disruption in that market.

What about the cloud?

I see some big things changing and evolving on this front as well.

Apple introduced iCloud and my first real experience with it as a consumer was playing a game on my iPad, then switching to my iPhone and having the game restore me to the exact point I was on the iPad.

This will become the standard.

Regardless of how devices transform, I don’t see us getting away from having some kind of a phone. We might merge tablet and laptop, but we are going to always have at least two devices.

It is going to be expected that data from one device is available on the other device. Many applications already support this, but I predict that we will see this get more tightly integrated into the operating system.

Microsoft, Google and Apple are all heavily invested in this area with a few different twists, but I see all the paths eventually merging to cloud based OSes with full app virtualization that streams bits to be executed to the clients and has the clients cache the app code.

What does this mean?

It means your user experience changes so that you log into your phone or tablet and when you do, you see the same thing regardless of device. You don’t even know you have two different devices, except for the form factor.

It also means that you don’t have the same concept of apps for your phone or tablet anymore. Instead you purchase an app and it is streamed to you when you want to use it. So as a user, you don’t need to worry about downloading the application or managing updates.

Think of it as the web, but instead of HTML you have binary executable code. Spoon already does this.

How about development?

If you are reading this blog, you are probably more interested in what is going to happen in terms of developing applications for these platforms.

I have some predictions here as well.

Right now it is very difficult to develop an application that will run on multiple platforms. Trying to target Android, iOS and Windows Phone is a bit of a challenge.

Even with great tools like MonoTouch and Mono for Android or PhoneGap, it is no easy task.

There is a big push to make everything web apps. Some people believe HTML 5 will be the future, but I am not quite so sure.

I do think that the most successful platform, in the long run, will be the one easiest to develop for. History tells me this is true. (Why is Windows so successful?)

Microsoft again has a chance to change the future with Windows 8’s WinRT. Suddenly web developers can write Javascript to program windows. Not only that, but they can reuse much of that code to create a web application.

Think about where Windows 8 will run. Desktop, laptop, tablet, phone. Suddenly, you can create an application that can run on all of these devices, with pretty much the same code.

So what does this mean for iOS and Google?

I predict that this year Apple will announce a new programming model for iOS which will be based on Javascript.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Google did the same thing for Android.

It really makes sense on the iOS side though. Apple is going to have to merge iOS with OSX to compete with Windows 8. In addition, they need a better programming model.

Writing iOS apps in Objective-C is horrible!

Apple is going to have to do something to prevent web developers from flocking to Windows 8.

In the near future, I think we will be able to write applications with the code of the logic in Javascript or another language of choice, which binds against Javascript APIs for each platform.

Summarizing my predictions

So in short, here is what I think will happen within 2-3 years.

  1. Tablets and laptops merge as Window 8 targets both and iOS merges with OSX.
  2. Cloud based operating systems replace standard OSes and virtualize apps by streaming them to users.
  3. All surviving platforms natively support a Javascript based API.
  4. Decrease in need for web apps, since streaming binary apps replace that niche.

I could be wrong, I’ve been wrong many times before, but those are my predictions as of now.

Reference: Predicting the Mobile Future from our NCG partner John Sonmez at the Making the Complex Simple blog.

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