When the electronics industry finally gets up off the deck, it's apparent that wireless technology--and particularly the convergence of wireless telephony and computing in such products as smartphones--will be in the vanguard of the recovery.
Smartphones--which can send and receive e-mail, display color photos and video, play music and games, and browse the Web--are only beginning to gain a foothold. According to Gartner Dataquest, of the 450 million cell phones expected to be sold globally this year, less than 10% will be fully interactive devices.
However, with important input from chipmakers, their eventual mass adoption seems certain. Texas Instruments, not unexpectedly, is the chipmaker deluxe in this sphere. TI is close to introducing a chip for high-end smartphones that integrates the radio, communications and applications processors, memory, and power management. Analog Devices, Broadcom, National, and Philips are also in the hunt, and Intel is arriving late to the scene with an integrated chip, Manitoba, based on its Micro Signal Architecture DSP co-developed with ADI.
The mere mention of Intel, however, raises a critical question concerning the way in which the wireless convergence of phones and computers will occur: Are we looking at the emergence of a single, dominant technology platform, on which thousands of applications can be built, or at the existence of multiple platforms?
The PC industry itself, of course, was built on a platform almost completely conrolled by Microsoft's operating system and Intel's microprocessors. But having absorbed the negative lessons of the Wintel experience, mobile handset makers, chip suppliers, and software programmers alike are pushing for the development of multiple platforms on which to build products like smartphones--more along the lines of the Internet model of the '90s than the PC model of the '70s and '80s.
As a Nokia vice president put it, "We're on the cusp of the mobile Internet experience, but the key is going to be making sure the technological architecture of this world is open."
Toward that end, nearly a year ago the Open Mobil Alliance was created, whose founding members included Nokia, Motorola, IBM, Sun, and, yes, Micro-soft. The alliance hopes to achieve agreement on technology standards so that cell phone-computer hybrids can function as an open network through which interactive media can flow among various telecom carriers and devices.
Sounds right, and if that kind of relationship can be formed, products like smartphones will be a smart bet.
E-mail comments to Barry Greenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.