A vision of mobile computing in the year 2005?
The birth of a new century has always been a time for prediction. At the start of the new millennium, one of the burning questions is how information technology will develop in the years ahead. Can we imagine, for example, how computers will have evolved by the year 2050? We can imagine, but not accurately. After all, in an industry renowned for its breathtaking pace of innovation, it is often difficult to see beyond the next eighteen months - just three product generations at current life cycles. So, in order to imagine what even the next decade will hold, we will have to leave all current notions of mobile computing behind. In just a few years' time, the notebook as we know it today - with its familiar form factor,rigid case, conventional display and keyboard - will be almost totally superseded by new types of product. As developments in display, battery and communications technology march on, and new sensor and actuator systems come on stream, the only limits to future product design will be those of the human imagination. In this article, we'd like to present Toshiba's vision of the future of mobile computing - a future that's a lot closer than 2050.
But before we look to the future of mobile information technology, it may be useful to examine its roots. Consider for a moment the 'technical specifications' of the humble ink-on-paper, hard-backed book. Firstly, it 'boots' immediately. It has an extremely high-resolution, high-contrast display that can be viewed from any angle and in all light conditions. All pages can be accessed immediately, and handwritten notes can be stored permanently and in their proper context. A book is also extremely robust and reliable, with no need for batteries or servicing. In other words, today's electronic technology is still a very long way away from achieving even this level of functionality.
Fast forward to the year 2005, however, and we have the DynaSheet from Toshiba. Measuring just 1 cm thick and weighing a mere 200 g, this powerful mobile device offers a level of functionality we can only dream of today.
First of all, let us consider one of the essential prerequisites for any mobile system, both now and in the future: power. No matter what type of processor, how much memory, or what type of display a notebook may have, limited battery life will bring any would-be mobile computer to an unceremonious halt. Over the next few years, it is extremely unlikely that we will see any radical innovations in battery technology. Eventually, the lithium-ion battery in use today will give way to flexible lithium polymer batteries that will enable manufacturers to mould additional power reserves into any free space left over inside the case. Having said that, there are companies who are already working on radical new battery systems capable of generating power from water, lead or even air. Just imagine: a mobile computer that runs on air. With no need to stop and recharge, PC mobility would be virtually unlimited. There's even the prospect of systems capable of generating power from the user's own body heat, a technology that would usher in a whole new range of wearable computers that could be left running 24 hours a day.
However, improved battery technology doesn't just mean increased mobility, it's also essential for powering future generations of processor. If Moore's Law continues to hold good, clock speeds will have topped 5 GHz by the year 2005. With that kind of power on tap, tomorrow's processors will be capable of handling additional functionality currently provided by other hardware components, e. g. communications, graphics and audio. The DynaSheet will also offer much greater flexibility when it comes to inputting data, with a choice of keyboard, stylus or voice input. The display will even be able to change shape dynamically to accommodate the input system selected by the user. As interactivity and processor speeds increase, the development of 3D functionality will open up a range of new applications.
At present, the size and shape of a mobile computer is largely dictated by screen format. However, a number of manufacturers are currently developing new display technologies in an effort to break the stranglehold of the standard A4 form factor. By 2005, the DynaSheet will have a polymer-based display flexible enough to be bent and shaped as required. Polymer technology will also make mobile systems more robust, while spelling an end to the conventional, horizontally oriented workplace.
Of course, the mobile computer of the future won't just offer greater productivity and one-to-one interactivity, it will also embrace all forms of communication. According to current predictions, every PC user will have at least two mobile devices and a range of peripherals by the year 2001. Consequently, all mobile systems will require a reliable and convenient means of exchanging data. One such technology is Bluetooth, an open specification defining wireless data connectivity between electronics devices. Bluetooth-enabled systems will offer an unprecedented level of user-friendliness, thereby encouraging greater integration of computers into our daily lives, be it to exchange e-mail, surf the Web, use online banking services, arrange a visit to the cinema during a video chat with a friend, or simply download the film and watch it at home. In five years' time, connectivity will be so important that communications technologies will form an integral part of all mobile product concepts. The DynaSheet, for example, will feature wireless Gigabit Ethernet for LAN environments as well as 4 Mbit/s Bluetooth-V, UTMS-3 or W-CDMA-2 connectivity for mobile roaming in most of the countries of the world. All peripherals, including printers, scanners, phones, etc., will be 'bilingual', supporting both fast LAN connectivity and the international 4 Mbit/s standard.
Finally, another interesting feature of the DynaSheet 2005 is what's known as context and location sensitivity. As a PNS, or Personal Navigation System, the DynaSheet will serve as your constant mobile companion, no matter what mode of transport you use. As well as recognising streets and buildings, the DynaSheet will be able to supply information on restaurants, shops, businesses and public institutions. Context sensitivity takes that capability one step further, offering 'smart' interactivity based on a range of information sources. Imagine, for example, that you're walking to work one morning. Your DynaSheet checks the diary and notes that you had dinner the previous evening with a business partner. The location system, meanwhile, has reported your visit to a bar on the way back home. As you approach the chemist's, the system suggests that you stop and buy some headache tablets. When you enter the shop, the system recommends a particular brand, then orders and pays. While this is going on, a video-mail arrives from a colleague in Berlin. Since you have configured the system not to disturb you while shopping, it waits until you are back outside before letting you know the mail has arrived. After sending your reply, you continue on your way. In short, the power and connectivity offered by the DynaSheet promises a whole new world of interactive and intelligent mobile computing in the future. Yet as revolutionary as many of these ideas may seem today, ultimately the DynaSheet 2005 may well be remembered as just another minor milestone on the road to the hopefully not yet totally virtual society of the year 2050.
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