McKinney believes the next “killer mobile platform” will combine the mobility of smartphones with the richer user experience currently offered by notebook and netbook PCs.
“At one end of the technology spectrum you have a rich but immobile experience, such as you get from a 50in TV, and at the other you have a flip-top phone. It’s mobile, but doesn’t give you a great experience,” McKinney said. It is in the area where these two extremes begin to converge that a new breed of device will emerge, he predicted.
Resembling today’s tablet PCs, these systems will come in a range of sizes with screens measuring from 4.5in to 10in, he said.
“Think of a slate of glass. It has no keyboard, and is designed to be a content consumption device for videos, books, magazines, audio and radio. It’s an ‘always on’ device, too.”
Content delivery networks
For a user to get the richness of experience McKinney envisages would require changes to the mobile broadband infrastructure, however.
“Network latency is a problem with the current mobile broadband services, especially if I’m using my slate as a collaboration tool. There are issues with videoconferencing-over-wireless with today’s infrastructure,” he said.
However, trials of Long Term Evolution (LTE), or 4G, technology suggest the latency problem could soon be resolved, according to McKinney. LTE is a mobile broadband technology that currently offers speeds of up to 100Mbit/s on both the downlink and the uplink.
“By 2018, we could be seeing gigabit [1,000Mbit/s] connections to mobile devices. This would open up huge possibilities in terms of the services you could offer,” he said.
McKinney said the move away from battery-sapping hard disks to solid-state drives (SSDs) will accelerate. SSDs have no moving parts, so they are not as power-hungry as hard disks. Retrieving data is also faster with SSDs.
McKinney said the only thing still holding back the mass adoption of SSDs is price. “The biggest hurdle is the high price but market studies say that if an SSD was on the market for less than $100 (£60), uptake would rocket,” he said.
In terms of next-generation power supply, fuel cells appear to be the main contender.
“At HP Labs we’re experimenting with several fuel cell variants. One prototype we’re using with a portable PDA allows that device to run for seven days between refuellings,” said McKinney.
HP Labs has also developed a solar film technology that can be used to power devices. Thin-film solar panels are created by using special printers to “print” nano particles of silicon and other special chemicals onto rolls of very thin plastic and aluminum, which can then be wrapped around mobile devices, he said.
The company is also looking into ways to extend the life of traditional Lithium-based batteries. “We’re the only computer manufacturer to create our own battery designs,” he said. “We’re looking at new Lithium-ion, Lithium-polymer and Lithium-zinc systems to try to improve energy densities.”
The goal is a device that can be fully charged in a matter of minutes and then provide a full day’s use. But new battery technology can only go so far to achieving this. “It’s about engineering the other components to consume less power that means more efficient processors, storage devices and wireless hardware,” McKinney said.
HP is also looking into power over Ethernet – power delivered over a network cable – as well as re-charging devices wirelessly.
McKinney pointed out that the adoption of the next version of the hypertext markup language (HTML) – HTML5 – would dictate the type of software future mobile devices run. “If HTML5 takes off, and becomes the application environme nt for browser-based applications, it will re-define how applications look in the future.”
Expect the unexpected
McKinney said the most exciting aspect of the mobile IT sector was its capacity to surprise. “The problem with predicting the future is that you overestimate how fast things will happen over the next five years and underestimate what will happen between years five and 10,” he said.
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