Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The birth of a Third Platform

The BCS South West region hosts a number of events; I like to go along to these as they usually include some very interesting topics, but it’s also quite useful to network with other IT pros from different backgrounds.

At a recent event, there was a guest speaker from Apple; Lawrence Stephenson talking about “The Birth of a Third Platform”. He was discussing the rise in use of iPhones and iPads, particularly by students at schools or in University / Colleges and proposed that this is a new form of computing. Although primarily about higher education, much of what he discussed was also relevant to business.

The basic argument was that the mainframe systems were the first generation of computing, and the standard client / server technology that we have become used to, is the second generation. The third generation is therefore the use of mobile computing devices as access points to process or make use of data; hence the “third platform”.

He illustrated his talk with some interesting facts about the growth in the numbers of smartphones and tablet devices particularly among students. He also compared how these are used; to access email, social networking sites, general web browsing etc. He also identified that there were some were using their devices to access relevant items related to the student courses, but this was still a relatively small amount and that there was potential for growth in this area.

He demonstrated by showing some apps that had been developed for a university in the States; and these were clearly items that a student would find tremendously helpful, particularly for those new to university life, such as campus maps etc. All in all, a really good demonstration of just what can be done.

There was one very interesting comment though; he showed some statistics that could be used to suggest that most people actually use their device more for accessing data than they do for making phone calls. As such, there could be an argument for saying that it is quite possible than some future device might not actually have a phone capability as such; you would be more likely to contact people using IM or calls would be routed through an IP based utility such as Skype.

Of course, these types of devices are not new; tablets have been around for some 10 years. However, the advent of the smartphone has encouraged the development of small apps that allow people to do specific tasks really quickly and easily, and that has made a huge difference in the take up of people using mobile computing. As people have found new uses, it encourages more people to make use of them, and more developers to consider writing apps for specific requirements.

Most companies have “road maps” that give a structure to their research and development process and show the customer what they are working on for future products. Apple are a bit tight lipped about their vision for the future, so it is difficult to be certain about what they have in the pipeline. However, I would suggest that they (and many others) are working on the basis that there will be more people wanting to make use of mobile devices.

Who knows; maybe in the not too distant future, we won’t be using PCs any more, but will just do all of the work using a mobile device.

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