SAN JOSE, Calif. – Head for high ground. A mobile tsunami will hit in 2011. It's the latest, and perhaps tallest wave in a high tide that has been rising for the last several years.
Sightings of this new high watermark were observed up and down the coast this week.
In Silicon Valley, Google held a press event trumpeting the coming of its Chrome OS, the software meant to power devices using only cloud-based applications. Google launched a broad beta program and grassroots marketing campaign for the environment now running in a prototype laptop.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, Google's mobile guru Andy Rubin showed the next version of Android optimized for tablets. The Honeycomb operating system will use the concept called fragments to let developers break their applications into viewable pieces that could be presented one way on the four-inch display of a smartphone and another way on a 7-to-10 inch display of a tablet.
Rubin showed Honeycomb due next year running on a prototype Motorola tablet at an event sponsored by the Wall Street Journal. He demoed it running a new version of Google Maps based on vector rather that tile data for smoother navigation with better 3-D graphics. Rubin suggested the tablet's processor might be a multicore Nvidia Tegra chip.
"We pick one [set] of our partners--a semiconductor partner an operator and an OEM and this is the device everyone has on their desk in the morning," said Rubin explaining a design philosophy he said was more aligned with Apple than Microsoft. "It makes a much tighter integration of hardware and software," he said.
Incidentally, he said Google's Android group is profitable based on sales of mobile ads via its free operating system.
At the same event Research in Motion co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis showed the Playbook tablet multitasking through multiple media- and communications-rich applications with ease. RIM clearly is melded its acquisitions of QNX, The Astonishing Tribe and more into a powerful software platform for what Lazaridis said is a multicore strategy.
So we can expect two new mobile platforms from Google in 2011 and one from RIM. Then there's Hewlett-Packard which has sent former Palm chief executive Jon Rubinstein on the conference circuit to let everyone know a new set of WebOS based tablets and smartphones are coming next year. Whether they rise or fall, you know they are aiming high and have backing from the world's biggest computer maker and chip buyer.
Don't forget Nokia, the world's biggest cellphone maker. Its new chief executive Stephen Elop is now quietly plotting a course that seems to be steering more to the MeeGo platform co-developed with Intel than to its traditional Symbian environment. Intel telegraphed long ago its work to get a 32nm Atom chip into a Nokia handset as its entry into smartphones and has said to expect news in late 2011.
Of course Apple will delight its fan base with an iPad2 and iPhone5 next year—unless there is a major earthquake centered in Cupertino. Calif.
And don't forget Samsung, the world's second biggest chip maker and one of the top tier cellphone makers. The intersection of its dual-core Orion chip and its Galaxy smartphones and tablets will cause a stir in 2011.
Muscular, low power multicore processors from Apple, Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Samsung, Texas Instruments and others are driving this next wave. They will ride the new tablets, readers, smartphones and other devices like surfboards on this tsunami.
It may take years before the tide recedes enough to reveal which systems and chips had the good fortune to succeed amid the chaos. This swell will last as long as semiconductor process technology can continue to turn the crank which looks to be at least another decade.
I remember seeing a poster at HP's Asia headquarters in Hong Kong's tony Bond building back in 1988 when I was just starting to cover this industry. It traced the history of computing from the mainframe Stone Age in which everyone shared one big computer to the minicomputer era in which small groups shared middling Unix systems to the modern days of the PC just then dawning with the Intel 386.
Get ready for the era in which we all own multiple mobile computers. Some of them are just now being invented and re-invented.