Two days ago I bought an app for my iPad that not only teaches me how to do the crunch properly, but also detects whether I’m reaching the appropriate height, and tells me to slow down when I’m doing it too fast.  I use another app to catalogue the books in my library (still many shelves to go!) and am extremely thrilled to be able to browse what I have in the palm of my hand.  I manage my fantasy football and do quick lookups on the internet pretty much on the fly. 

I really love my iPad.  Not for the obvious reasons only (i.e. gaming, reading, etc), but the realization of the potential of such a powerful device.  This got me thinking about the personal devices in our lives.

Not everyone realizes that for most of us, we’re lugging around a device that is more powerful than the supercomputers of yesteryears.  The amount of firepower in our pockets nowadays beggars belief.  The smartphones nowadays, augmented with apps, are practically doing most of what we need do on a daily basis previously only possible on a desktop machine. 

I’m envisioning a very near future where all we ever need to communicate, work, entertain ourselves and others and generally get things done will be encapsulated in our mobile superphones (which in all probability will have to adopt a newer moniker than a ‘smartphone’).  This all-in-one device would be powerful enough to run all our applications for work and play, enough storage to keep everything we would need on the go, and of course, the communication infrastructure to keep in touch with people we need to.  The iPads and tablets of the world, while also able to fulfill these requirements, are still too big to be truly mobile.  They serve their purposes in certain scenarios, sure, but we’re talking about the dream of being truly mobile – not needing to lug anything other than your superphone device.

Even today, a lot this is already possible.  The only problem yet to be solved comprehensively is in the domain of the mobile device user interface.  Anyone who’ve attempted to actually work on a smartphone for any length of time will be able to tell you – the current form factor does not make for a conducive and productive environment.  It’s simply too small.  Either it’s the screen size, or tactile feedback when typing, or multitasking, it’s simply not the right form factor.  Even the iPad isn’t the answer to portable computing for exactly the same reasons.  Try writing long email or creating presentations for extended periods of time on it, and you’ll soon start to look for a computer where you can actually sit down and finish the work.

However, this can potentially be solved with the addition of external connections to more traditional input and output interfaces like a monitor or a keyboard.  Imagine a future where terminals exists where all you need to do is to plug in your mobile device to turn it into a mobile workstation, complete with keyboards, monitors and mice and other peripherals.  Imagine projectors with docks where you plug in your mobile phone to access your presentations.  When this happens, then it’ll become simply a matter of infrastructure.  These ‘terminals’ would then be part of public infrastructure the same way you’re expected to be provided with a corporate phone extension in a new company, or public phone booths.

Already the kind of apps that’s being developed for the smartphones of today, what with the equipped cameras and gyros, accelerometers, compasses, GPSes and other sensors really make the device extremely capable. 

I’m really excited to see what happens in the next few years.  I’m hoping that I will soon only need to bring my mobile phone with me when I go to work.  Goodbye, laptop bag!

(I’m aware that as of this writing the Motorola Atrix 4G already some of what I’ve talked about, but I wrote the bulk of this post before the Atrix was announced, so instead of rewriting, I will say my piece, then talk about the Atrix in a separate post).