The Mobile Phone as Computer
By Eric Lin, Thu Sep 30 00:45:00 GMT 2004

Emerging applications are proving that the phone is no longer just a communications tool but a computing one. Handset hardware and software will evolve to support this new paradigm.


There's no denying that mobile phones are getting more powerful. Moore's law has done more for handsets and PDAs than it has for PCs recently. As handsets grow more powerful, and as they converge with other devices or functions, users rely on them more and more, just as they have traditionally relied on PCs to perform many computing needs. Users, as well as carriers and developers are now treating mobile phones more and more as mobile computers -- even models that are not smartphones. Handsets have been evolving incrementally to reflect this evolution, now the chips that power them are reflecting this change as well.

NEC has announced a new mobile chip with not one, but three ARM-based processors, in addition to a processor dedicated to media and sound all in a single, low-power unit. All these processors, or cores, will allow handsets to accomplish a number of intense tasks simultaneously. Dual-core processors for desktop computers have only recently become available, but this technology is already being applied to mobile processors, indicating how quickly handsets are evolving to match the PCs functionality. The companies that create desktop graphics processors are also developing more powerful chips for handsets, as they take on yet another function of the PC -- gaming.

As the phone is evolving from a (primarily voice) communication tool into a mobile computer, application developers are starting to take notice. Applications are emerging that take the mobile phone's abilities and shortcomings into consideration, creating surprisingly prescient glimpses into the future. These applications do not try to cram a PC interface or functionality into a handset, rather they make the most of the phone's abilities to reach similar goals as PC-based applications. The ability of new handsets to handle all sorts of functions and applications may be why no one has been able to predict what the killer application for 3G or next generation handsets are. There is no one killer application for the PC anymore, there are killer applications depending on a user's needs and interests, but those vary from person to person. The same is true mobile devices, as they grow more powerful, there will not be one killer application, but a host of them depending on a user's criteria.