Cell Phones – The New Computers?

Not long ago the Wall Street Journal ran a trend-spotting article about technology and gadgets of the future (requires subscription).

The article interviewed one person who suggested that cell phones have the potential to become the personal computers of the future — but only if telecommunications companies give up control over the hardware:

“The personal computer for the rest of the world isn’t going to be the personal computer. It’s going to be the cellphone,” says John Sviokla, 47, the vice chairman of DiamondCluster International, a Chicago-based technology-consulting company. “Communication is more important than computation on the human hierarchy of need.”

But before that can happen, the cellphone is going to have to change. Specifically, cellphone companies have to surrender their control over the phone’s features and capabilities. If phones had standard ports — such as USB connections — innovators could develop their own applications without having to wait for the cellular provider to offer them.

“Think of what happened with personal computers when they opened up the architecture,” Dr. Sviokla says. “Personal innovation flourished.”

So what would he add if he could? He lists a scanner that would enable him to store business-card information in the phone, a global-positioning system, a radar detector, a flash-memory reader that would allow the phone to serve as a portable hard drive and a fingerprint reader “so I could lock my phone by touching it and unlock it by touching it,” Dr. Sviokla says, noting that several vendors provide the technology, but it isn’t available on any phones on the market.

“The phone companies cannot possibly market all the options that people might come up with,” Mr. Sviokla says. “If they open the device, then the market of new adopters can discover the most popular combinations, and then the big guys can pick the popular things and merchandise them extensively.”

Opening up cell phone hardware would certainly lead to opportunities for many small technology businesses. Smaller companies often are the innovators, coming up with new uses for technology that no one has thought of.

In a number of technology arenas today, large companies are letting the small fry innovate, and then snapping up those small companies. It’s a tried and true way for large companies to develop niche technologies that otherwise might never see the light of day within a large organization because of more pressing priorities. Om Malik identified this trend last year, and I noted it last October in a piece entitled “Big Tech Buying Small Tech Trend.”

Hat tip to Rajesh Jain at Emergic.org for the Wall Street Journal link.

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.