News from the Road: Mobile World Congress, Barcelona

At the Fira Barcelona Grounds

It was nice to come again to a city I used to call home, Barcelona. In a way it still is like an ex girlfriend who you will always love even when you’ve already got a wife and 4 kids. But we’re digressing so let me get back to the topic at hand.

I’m back in Barcelona to attend Mobile World Congress 2010. As the congress winds down to its last day, I want to highlight and report on what has inspired me.

Mobile Broadband is an inevitable future.

The future of always on, always connected to the network, always up, always fast is no longer a possible future but an inevitable one. It’s a scenario the reality of which my imagination could only touch the surface even if I already have a wild imagination. As technology advances, network capacities we could not have imagined possible will be achieved at ever lowering cost. The power of computers which used to occupy whole buildings can now literally be had on the palm of your hand. Network speeds will no longer be an issue or a comparative basis because everything will be so fast that we will no longer think about it. It will be as natural as breathing or a more closer analogy will be thinking. A thought will just pop up without us having to think about the speeds of the synaptic signals between neurons in our brain. Imagine if these signals were constrained, we would never get anywhere or do anything.

As capacities and speeds unimaginable become available, expect that we will always find ways to use it.

It will not just change the industry, it would have psychological and philosophical consequences. How would life be in such a world? The challenge for the industry is not just limited to how to provide this capacity at a recuparable cost but more fundamentally how will the industry look like in such a world. It’s not just about pricing and business models to recuperate the investment but what will the structure of that industry be?

Philosophically, an interesting notion comes to mind. If we are connected with anybody and anything in this network at the speed of thought, then won’t we become just neurons on this cloud which we could now call the metabrain, a brain of brains?

Marriage of telephony and cloud computing

Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, gave a talk and demoed a voice and video search (aka google goggles), which at first glance seem like trivial tasks but are in fact tasks that involve such sophisticated complexity with secret algorithms, a lot, I suspect, involves Bayesian heuristics and other data alchemy. Then it occurred to me that telephony and cloud computing is a match made in heaven. (I could already picture in my head a romantic movie of 2 lovers destined to be together and the conflicts, challenges and tribulations in between are mere illusions so you get the audience glued to their seats for 90 or so minutes. The “live happily ever after” ending is bound to happen whether you watch the movie from the beginning or near the end or not watch the movie at all. But then I am digressing and I have to stop.) It is inevitable.

Which brings me back to the earlier insight on the transformation of independent individuals to just neurons in this brain of brain. Telephony are the synapses. We are part of the cloud as these server farms, which some of us initially think of as the only main components of the cloud, and embedded devices are. We will all be just neurons in the brain of brains. I wonder if that will develop its own consciousness. Ok stop.

Meanwhile back in Earth, I am inspired to guide my organization to learn, adopt, live and immerse everything that we do in the cloud. Another thing I want to borrow from Google is the mantra of “Mobile First”. Everything we do now should be “Mobile First” and “In the Cloud.”

I can’t contain the excitement of the geek in me.

Open API. Write Once. Deploy Everywhere.

App Store Wannabe?

As developer of mobile enabled apps, our company Chikka.Com has always looked with envy at web players with their “develop once, deploy globally immediately” reality they luckily find themselves in. I especially felt this as I led Chikka’s foray into foreign markets. It was “develop once, take 1 year to convince telco A to allow you on their network, then redevelop it for A, another year for telco B in country C, redevelop it for B but charge the receiver and wear white on Mondays, convince telco C in country D that it’s ok that telco A has it even if C and A hate each other…” I could go on and on and make this into a book instead of a blog but I wouldn’t do that because it’s 1Am and I’m sleepy and the point is clear that it simply is not efficient and sustainable. Even in one country, develop once deploy everywhere is impossible so I began to do my favorite past time: playing the what if game. What if it is possible? What do we need to make, change, destroy, grow, pester, cajole, steamroll, pull, push, hug, kiss, slap around, pat in back to make it happen? And I thought of HAL of Windows NT in my Microsoft days. (HAL is Hardware Abstraction Layer for you non geeks which if I could simplify means developers not having to think about the transistors in the processor to make a program.) What if we have a HAL or TCAL (TelCo Abstraction Layer) so developers don’t have to think about the telephone operator to develop his killer app. So we embarked on a mission to be the TCAL for developers developing apps for mobile subscribers in the Philippines.

So it was with great satisfaction to learn that GSMA (the association of GSM telephone operators (I wonder how meetings among these highly competitive bunch are?)) is launching an initiative called One API. This just means that I am not alone in the desert. There are other people… in the desert. I could always eat them in case we run out of food.

There will be industry support, in theory at least. There will be specifications, which on one hand could be limiting but on the other hand could be viewed as a guide guiding the lost souls in the desert who are about to eat each other because they’re running out of food.

And finally because I’m sleepy, cool new phones

HTC (OEM makers of Palms, XDAs and just about everything even your kitchen sink) launch a slew of really cool phones. Cool because they look and feel like iPhones but with Android in them. Kidding aside, they are stylish, slick and fast. I snobbed Nokia and Samsung, whom I used to like because they partnered with IDEO on some of their designs as I made a resolution around September last year that a friend of IDEO is a friend of mine. Samsung’s models, including those in skimpy outfits in their booth, failed to impress me.

I’m sure you could google for better pictures but here’s a glimpse (badly taken):

iPhone wannabes?

The surprise to me was good ole Microsoft. I used to work with MSFT, used to own Windows Mobile phones before I shifted to the iPhone and the Berry, used to use Vista before I upgraded to Windows 7 on Parallels, used to drink Bill Gate’s water after he spoke before I spoke in one conference (Seriously! Bill spoke, left an unfinished bottle of water on the lectern, I got on stage, took a swig and started my speech with “glug glug, this is the water from the fountain of wealth.” I got rehydrated but never got wealthy. So as you can see, good ole MSFT has lost its coolness and relevance for me. Then wham! I saw the vaporware of Windows Phone 7 and I was in love again at least with the vaporware. The phone won’t be available til Dec 2010. The interface was so cute and cool, I couldn’t believe it didn’t come from Cupertino. (You have to google it because  I did not take photos.)

Sleepy thoughts

Well these are the things that inspired me at this year’s congress and I’m writing this so I won’t forget and also to share my thoughts. There are so many things going on (some maybe potentially world changing but slipped my mind as I write) which shows a vibrant industry it is hard to keep up but also hard not to be inspired by the ideas and efforts of the people trying to eke a living in the Wild West of mobile for it is the Wild West out here, dusty, savage, full of dueling cowboys, hard and romantic. Who could have thought at that time that California would have the 8th largest economy with an Austrian governor or Arizona or Texas be what they are today? The mobile industry is still the Wild West. Its future, its possibilities I could only imagine and even my wild imagination will end up a gross underestimation of what it will be. So brace yourself for the new world and it will be totally something you did not expect.


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