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Platforms, present and future IX

Average storage capacity in smartphones keeps growing. Top of the line smartphones have reached 512GB and microSD cards to extend storage capacity have decreased their cost (1TB for 30$ as of October 2019). Average storage is likely to hit 1 TB in the second half of the next decade, allowing the use of smartphones as massively decentralised data centres and as massively distributed platform. Image credit: Counterpoint

6. Device/product platforms:

I stated in the first post in this series that a technical platform support processing, storage and communications. Now, let’s look at a smartphone. Doesn’t it support processing, storage and communications? Of course it does (and it does much more, like sensing).

We often underestimate the power of the smartphone we keep in our hand. Its power equals the one of a supercomputer a few decades ago even though it is a far cry from today’s data centres.

However, if we expand the look to all smartphones (there are 3 billions of them and growing) we realise that their collective power exceed the one of the largest data centre.

Smartphones represent a massively distributed platform. However, when we look at smartphones, and more generally at devices, in terms of platforms we are not looking at them as a technical platform but more in the sense of a market platform.

Creating an app for IOs or one for Android means creating an app that can address a market of billions of potential customers. This is the huge value of these platforms.

As a matter of fact, the enabler is the operating system (more monolithic in the case of IOs, with a few variations in the case of Android) but the operating system is just a basic component. What makes the platform effective is the provisioning of support to offer, deployment and sales (that is the existence of the Apps stores). It is this latter that has stimulated the growth of apps, making it easier for developers to reach the market (there is more of course, like the support tools for developing apps, the brand that captivates the market …).

These devices’ platforms are going to evolve in the coming years. The smartphones, and devices, will become even more powerful, more storage, processing power and connectivity. We are already engaging with our devices for a considerable part of our day and as devices will become wearable (and a few embedded) we will be engaging even more with them. In addition, the backstage (like the Apps stores and developers kits)  will provide even more support for the go-to-market.

As powering of these devices will become less problematic (wireless charging that will keep your devices always charged as you move from one ambient to the other) it will become possible to leverage also on the technical platform created by clusters of devices. This will increase the power of each device, since whenever needs arise that device will be able to harvest the spare capacity of nearby devices.

In the second part of the next decade I expect to see vehicles becoming a platform, as are smartphones today, in terms of apps. Soon after I will expect to see vehicles in a urban environment become a communications platform, i.e. to manage connectivity, each vehicle becoming a network node. 5G will be providing the first basic functionality although we will need to wait for 6G to see vehicles (and other devices) become real network nodes.

As a closing point, I would expect each smartphone to become a technical platform hosting much more sophisticated personalisation functionality. My smartphone will store my personal data and the software to leverage these personal data starting with my digital twin. The data harvested from the web will be displayed, when needed, on my smartphone screen, or on any screen in my surrounding that would better fit the task, rendered in a way that makes those data significant to me. So if you and I will make exactly the same query on the web we will be seeing different rendering of the query result, since our smartphones will create different visualizations to fit our specific interest and knowledge level. Notice that this rendering process will take into account not just our preferences (use table rather than graphics, one font or another…), what I would call a syntactical rendering, but also our knowledge, skill, experience, what I would call semantic rendering.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.