Will the continued explosion of mobile devices change the way we use computers?
That’s a good question to ask right now because the Mobile World Congress is running this week in Barcelona. It offers an inside look at what cellular carriers and mobile device makers will do next.
That makes it a great time to consider what it means to have 159 million smartphone and 140 million tablet users in the United States alone (numbers per eMarketer). To date, people tend to use these devices in the same way as they do a laptop or desktop computer. They turn the device on, use it, and then turn it off. As a result, the technology business has spent the last few years focusing on how to keep these devices in sync with each other.
It’s a focus that may be starting to change.
We’re increasingly living in a world where people own multiple devices. For instance, eMarketer reports there are now some 88.5 million dual smartphone-tablet users in the US. In 2011, the number was just 25 million.
This multi-device usage may be bringing some new demands with it.
It looks like people don’t want their devices to just share data anymore. Now, they also want them to share software and screens. For instance, they might want to use a smartphone to control the software on their tablet, a tablet to control the software on their TV, and a smartwatch to control the software on their smartphone.
After all, if they’ve got all these devices, why wouldn’t they want to use them all together?
At the moment, you can really only do this in some limited ways. Take Google Chromecast. People can connect it to a TV in order to turn it into a display for some of the software that’s found on their smartphones and tablets. While the device is popular, it doesn’t let them use their smartphone’s software on their tablet, their tablet’s software on their laptop, or their laptop’s software on their smartwatch.
And yet, this is the sort of cross-device control that seems to be coming next.
Consider Samsung’s Gear 2, a brand new version of the smartwatch it debuted last year. It will talk to Samsung’s Android-based smartphones in order to share and display some information. But, the device reportedly only works with Samsung’s smartphones today. It doesn’t currently work with the Android phones that its rivals make.
The question is whether these sorts of limitations will last or if more interoperability is coming.
Ecosystems will surely rule in the short term. But, the number of computing devices are growing across every socio-economic category. A lot of people can’t afford Apple’s high prices, so a lot of companies are selling them a wide range of lower-cost options. As a result, people increasingly own devices from many different manufacturers.
This suggests that pressure will grow to let them all to work together no matter who makes them.
It’s already started. Sony recently released its own smartwatch. Unlike Samsung’s, Sony’s watch is said to communicate with any smartphone running Android 4.0. By the same token, Wacom, a well-known manufacturer of electronic drawing tablets, announced technology this week that will let people share their handwritten electronic notes across mobile and other computing devices.
Now, there’s a new way to use your computers.
(Disclosure: James Abels runs a startup working on new ways to design and deliver media.)