Technology Futures

Commentaries on Directions That Will Impact the Future of Technology

Archive for the category “Mobile Computing”

Read Anywhere Low Power Displays: Not Far Off?

In the 1990s, I was introduced to a French scientist who, working alone, developed a process for making displays using a reflective coating technology.  He was related to the CEO of a client company that hired my firm to evaluate the money-making potential of the technology.  My colleagues and I were blown away by the possibilities inherent in the technology.  Not only did the displays look terrific, they cost almost nothing to produce and could be laid down on almost any substrate, even paper!  To make a long story short, the technology never saw the light of day.  The scientist, a holocaust survivor, was terrified that someone was gong to steal his ideas and was very difficult to deal with.  Eventually, the company got tired of waiting for him to cooperate.

According to those who claim to know a lot about display technology, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of new display ones put forward every year.  Very few ever see the light of day.  However, in the past few years, some new technologies with big money behind them have emerged.  All of them purport to provide high-quality viewing with low power consumption.

You may recall the project called One Laptop Per Child.  It’s aim was to be able to produce a laptop computer for $100, cheap enough so that every kid in every third world country could get one.  The program has achieved some success.  About 50 countries have adopted the device.  The utility of these laptops is, of course, a function of many parameters, but one of the key ones is the display, which has to be easy to read outdoors and use up so little power that the the laptop can be recharged by sunlight, given that electrical outlets are rare in darkest Africa.

The technology that made it possible was developed by Mary Lou Jepson at MIT’s Media Lab.  She has now gone on to found a company called Pixel Qi (pronounced “chee”) that is developing next-generation display technology with the emphasis on low-power consumption.  The company just announced a new screen architecture that it claims matches the resolution, color saturation, contrast ratio and viewing angles of the Apple Retina display, but draws three to 100 times lower power and is readable. in bright sunlight.

Qualcomm, the big mobile phone company, acquired a startup called Pixtronix a couple of years ago that developed a display technology dubbed Mirasol.  Again, high-quality viewing with low power consumption.  Depending on whose article you read, Qualcomm is investing $1 – 2 billion in a plant in Taiwan to produce Mirasol displays.  Samsung, which claims to be the world’s largest consumer electronics company, acquired s company called Liquavista, a spinout from Royal Philips Electronics.  Again, low-power with the ability to read in any lighting condition.

Not to be completely left in the dust, the big-time LCD panel manufacturers like Sharp are working hard on new technologies.  One of these is known as IGZO (Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide) which offers several options including lower power and better resolution than conventional LCD technology.  It was thought by many that Apple would use the technology in its iPad3, but that didn’t happen.

As you might expect, all of the foregoing are looking to replace conventional liquid crystal displays in hand-held and laptop devices.  A San Jose, CA company, Prysm, however, is specializing in low-power large format displays, based on its proprietary laser phosphor display technology.  Imagine an entire wall displaying high-quality video imagery using 75% less power than competing technologies, and you have the idea.

There isn’t enough room in this post to go into the various technologies that these companies are employing, nor the many other display technologies under development at places like the University of Cincinnati.  Follow some of the links in this post, and you’ll at least see what the manufacturers are willing to tell you.

Without picking winners and losers, I am convinced that low-power, high-resolution displays that can be read in any light will be hitting the market big time in the next few years.  The impact on battery life and manufacturing cost will be truly significant.  Think about a tablet or laptop you can read outdoors that charges its batteries without a cord.  To quote Joe E. Brown in Some Like it Hot, “Zowie.”


The IBM Tech Trends Report: Can 4000 IT Pros Be Right?

The eight-striper wordmark of IBM, the letters...

Image via Wikipedia

Last year, IBM conducted a survey of 4,000 IT professionals in an attempt to identify the most important technology trends.  The survey population included IT pros from 93 countries and 25 industries.  The US, China, Russia, India and Brazil contributed the most responses.  The results are published in a publicly available report titled The IBM Tech Trends Report.

This blog post shamefacedly plagiarizes from the IBM report.  For many years, I conducted similar types of surveys and published similar reports, but always for individual clients who would never let the competition see the results.  It is an interesting statement that IBM is willing to share its findings with anyone willing to take the time to read the material.  Even more interesting (to me) is that IBM also published the survey data.  Thus, if you don’t like IBM’s conclusions, you can formulate your own using its data!  Very cool indeed.

The data is in SPSS format.  Since not many people have SPSS, IBM cut a deal so that individuals can download and install a 14-day trial version, plenty of time to analyze the information.  I’ve already done that.  In future blog posts, I’ll present some of my conclusions, but I’m not going to tell you that they are based on this data, since that would be only one input that I would be inclined to use.

IBM’s study focused on four areas: business analytics, mobile computing, the cloud and social business.  According to IBM, these are four critical and interconnected areas that developers must concentrate on to build what IBM’s PR folks call “The Smarter Planet.”

I’m not going to regurgitate the findings of the study – you can read that for yourself – but there are a few things that came out of the study that I think are noteworthy:

  • There is less interest in automation in the US than there is in the other large countries.  Does this suggest that the US is so far ahead that it doesn’t think it needs it, or does the US have its collective head up its collective a-s?
  • Developers of mobile computing applications would be wise to concentrate on the Android platform.  Although iOS is very popular in the US and developed countries, Android offers a much shorter learning curve, and will be more appealing to the rest of the world.
  • Cloud Computing offers new opportunities for building and delivering applications and can lead to new ways of conceptualizing business models.
  • The popularity of social networking in the business environment is very closely tied to culture.  For example, social networking is embraced in India and spurned in Russia.  The US loves it, but is worried about security and privacy.

Most of the tech trends info that is on the web is written by reporters who get most of their information from interviews with people in the booths at the latest techy conference.  It’s nice to see real study results based on meaningful statistical data.



Tablets: Is the Enterprise a New Frontier?

Windows 8 Libraires Concept

Windows 8 (Photo credit: louisvolant)

Everybody knows that Tablets are becoming more or less ubiquitous.  The great majority of them, however, are being bought for playing games, web browsing, mapping, watching movies and TV shows, video telephony and other personal pursuits.  The buzz now is for the tablet to become an important device for businesses, known in the trade as “enterprises.”

Not long ago, I was on an airplane, seated next to a youngish man who had an iPad with him.  We struck up a conversation, and I learned that he was an electronics engineer who worked for a leading Silicon Valley company.  He was effusive about his iPad, but, when I asked him what he used it for, he said “mostly I play Scrabble!”  I think most tablet owners would have a similar response.

That said, the time has come for the tablet to become an important tool for businesses.  There are some new driving forces that will make that happen.  One of them will be the appearance of Windows 8, scheduled for release later this year.  Why is that important given the tremendous lead of iOS and Android?  Because you will be able to run existing Windows applications.  Since Windows-based apps are at the core of most business IT operations, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the benefits.

Coming from a different direction, wireless carrier Verizon announced a new enterprise initiative it calls Blank Slate.  The plan is to deliver a tablet without the usual pre-installed settings and apps.  Instead, the tablet will be set up with customized software and/or hardware that are optimized for specific industry applications.  In addition, there will be a private app storefront which will enable an employee to access company proprietary applications.  Although the program will start with Android, one can presume Windows 8 will follow.

Recently, Meg Whitman, HP’s new CEO, indicated that HP will be back in the mobile platform business, but, instead of trying to complete with Apple and Google for consumers, the focus would be on the enterprise where HP is strong.  Up until the other day, she was talking up Open WebOS, HP’s open sourced mobile operating system, but, now is talking Windows as the most likely candidate.

I conclude that the enterprise tablet business will be a really big deal in a couple of years, given the muscle of companies like Microsoft, HP and Verizon.  If you watch the various CSI TV shows, you would know that law enforcement couldn’t operate without them. (Chuckle)


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