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Just learned a new word, the phablet. Will one device do?

on ‎05-01-2013 11:50 PM

Source: Freedigitalphotos.netJust read an article “Nokia planning phablet for 2013”. The original information appeared in the Financial Times. Yes they put the word “phablet” into brackets, but everybody seems to know what they mean. Wonderful language that keeps expanding itself.


On a more serious note, will such phablet and cloud access be all I need to do my business?   If we believe ZDNet, by 2023 you’ll just need a mobile phone (I would argue at least a phablet) and cloud access. Actually I’m not sure, or at least, I’m sure that, if this is true, both the phone and the cloud will be quite different from what we have today. Let me explain you why.


First, we have a couple physical constraints, and although I hate to admit that, my fingers are not getting smaller nor are my eyes getting sharper, so, doing my day to day job with only a smartphone as human interface is out of the question. Then, people keep claiming the tablet will replace the PC. I happen to travel quite a lot and what I see around me is that, rather than having two devices in their hand luggage (the notebook & the phone), people now have three (the notebook, the tablet and the phone), with three sets of cables and three power supplies (he, standardization wouldn’t be smart, wouldn’t it?). You may argue this is the case because the ideal convergence device hasn’t been invented yet. Assume for a moment that you would be right, what characteristics would such device need?


Let’s go back to basics. To do my job, what do I really need? In my mind, 5 things, an input mechanism to interact, a display to visualize what I do, some intelligence to process what I require, access to my data and applications, and last but not least end-to-end secure communications. I don’t think I miss anything, do I? So let’s look at what we may expect over the next 10 years.



I need to be able to command my environment and to input information in it. I could do that in one of three ways, using voice, using an input device such as a keyboard, or using a graphical input mechanism (gesture, handwriting or something similar). Voice interaction has been around for at least 10 years, but it has not really broken through. I actually tested it several times, and frankly it does not work for me. My first issue… I write in multiple languages and that is something current voice recognition applications have difficulty with. Other small issue, you imagine the 150 passengers of an airplane talking at the same time while interacting with their device.


I could use my mobile phone keyboard, but it is pretty small. Yes, I use it to write an SMS or a short response to an e-mail, but would never use it to work with a spreadsheet, develop a presentation or write a blog entry. Not only is a large part of my screen taken up by the keyboard, making it difficult to review the document I’m working on, but the constant interaction of my fingers on the phone glass requires me to clean the phone regularly. And then, how often do I mistype because of the size of my fingers.


So, if we want our single device to contain a reasonable size keyboard, that device will need to be of a certain size. You could argue for the use of a portable, foldable, projected keyboard. Those exist today.

They could be used but imply I carry my keyboard with me. Ergonomists will tell you though that the human being is looking at a feedback mechanism when they type. In other words, drumming your fingers on a projected keyboard is apparently more stressing. And I’m not even speaking about issues related with environmental conditions such as the surface on which the keyboard is projected or sunlight making it difficult to see. And don’t think about using a projected keyboard, crammed in an economy seat in the back of an airplane.


I could go back to handwriting or gesturing. Handwriting requires appropriate recognition software. Again, todays applications do not provide full satisfaction. As most of us spend our live typing, we have rather sloppy handwriting, making it more difficult to recognize. The alternative would be using gesture, but that requires space. Think about what would happen during a peak hour trainride.


So, we need an interaction mechanism. Frankly, I only see two possibilities, a real keyboard or voice recognition on steroids.



Starting from the fact our eyes aren’t getting any better, we have a number of options. Obviously we can take the “Google type” glasses where we project the content of our screen. Looks great and futuristic, but can it be used with the glasses I’m wearing daily? Also, I don’t know, because I wasn’t able to test them, how suitable this technology is for day long work, in other words, how quickly is the brain getting tired? I know that some 3D technologies give headaches, so the question should be asked.


Our environment is full of screens, so one thing we could do is use those screens to portray the content we’re working on. When you are in your hotel room, you use the large TV screen, when you’re on the plane, the entertainment one, etc. That’s a possibility, but would require a standard interfacing (preferably short distance wireless such as Bluetooth) has to be developed to make this a reality.


The third option is to use a micro projector that could be included in the device itself and project on a screen, a wall, the ceiling… you name it. Two aspects need to be addressed here. First what would be the battery drain of such technology and will the battery technology improve sufficiently to still provide reasonable battery life? Second, some hotels would need to repaint some of their walls to replace colored wallpaper by something you can project on.


The fourth, a little more futuristic one is the foldable screen. You carry a small roll with you and unfold it when you need to look at something. You’ll probably need some sort of a structure to keep it open and standing, but that can be small and light weighted.


These things are solvable. Yes the glasses would be most practical as you can easily carry them and they do not limit your freedom of movement, but the other two are feasible alternatives. As far as foldable screens are concerned, prototypes exist, but when will it become mainstream.


Processing capability

Being able to interact and see what I do, I now need a device that links to my data and applications, regardless where they are physically located. The actual capacity of that device depends on how much I want to do “locally” versus remotely. Is that device my mobile phone? Well, in 10 years from now all communications will be VIOP, and I assume we will finally have cracked the video call we talk about since at least 20 years, so we probably do not need a device we have to bring to our ear. It could easily be a device hanging on our belt, or embedded in our jacket or who knows. We may need a video camera though, but again that one could be a small, separate device.


Our device would pretty much use an icon based approach for access to our applications/services, and I would advise for that device to still have a small screen, more as a last resort in case we cannot find another visualization device when we need interaction. That’s probably why most people think about their smartphone to be such device.


Data and Application Access

OK, today I can get access to the internet everywhere. But frankly it is often expensive and cumbersome. There is much to be done to facilitate that access. Will it come from mobile technologies such as 4G (and

I assume that over the next 10 years we will see 5G and maybe 6G) or WiFi/WiMAX type technologies?

What-ever the technology used, accessing the internet has to become easy and cheap. That will be the key criteria on whether this vision will be successful or not.


We do not have ubiquitous access to the internet (and the cloud) yet, but that is coming, so in 10 years from now it is reasonable to assume the internet will be accessible everywhere, including in trains and planes, so we could live with our data and apps in the cloud.


Easy end-to-end secure communication

Now, I have an access port to “The Cloud”, I can display what I want to see, I can interact with it. But I want to make sure I can access all my information and functionality, regardless where they are located,

in a secure manner. And ideally that should be completely transparent to me. I don’t want to have to remember http addresses, passwords or anything. This implies four things.


First, my access device can identify it’s me. There are many ways to do that. One or another form of biometric recognition is probably the best and most secure (fingerprint, voice pattern, retina scan you name it). Second, a secure communication is required to the application and data locations. This is probably an evolution of current VPN technologies to develop secure pipes. And third, the messages forth and back should be encrypted, so we will need some encryption capabilities on the device as well as proper key management.


The three first have to do with security in the communication, the fourth consists in a broker type functionality taking care of the applications and services I want to access, and ensuring the locations are properly and securely linked when I use the service. Remember that the data may be in one cloud while the functionality is in another. So we need security and isolation not only between the device and the application, but also between the application and the data. All of this needs to be set-up through the broker. Now whether this broker runs on the device or is in itself a cloud service is an implementation question. The technologies exist today. What we will need moving forward is increased standardization between the clouds to ensure easy coexistence of services running on multiple ones.



If we can sort the points I discussed all along out, and if the standards are agreed upon, I’ll probably run around with one access device. Whether that one will look like todays smartphone or not remains to be seen. It may actually be embedded in my watch, wearable or hang off my belt. I’ll probably have some more gadgets with me though and these will include an input device, a display device of some sort, a wireless headset to place calls complemented with a wireless camera if video calls become the norm.

Let’s hope they all charge from the same charger (mini USB as proposed by the EU for example), so I only need to carry one charger, or I won’t have gained anything.


And to make this all work… the ubiquitous, easy to access, cheap and fast internet. Oh, and one slide issue that will need to be addressed… the legal side of things, but let’s leave that one aside for the moment. One can only dream.

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