Thursday, May 28, 2009

iPhone: the PC of the 21st century

Back in the 1980's, enthusiasts working for corporations, tired of waiting for their overworked, control-oriented, and unresponsive mainframe-centric IT departments to develop applications for them, would sneak in personal computers into their offices and develop their own applications in BASIC or build their own VisiCalc spreadsheets. As the numbers grew, the IT department's control policies were routinely subverted and support became nightmare. Gradually, corporate IT departments saw the writing on the wall and began incorporating PCs into their budgets, on an as-needed basis. In the end, PCs drove out all dumb terminals and PCs became the corporate mainstay. But it took a long couple of decades for things to be sorted out. And just when IT departments began to think they had matters under control comes the iPhone, playing the role of 1980's PCs. Without the IT department's imprimatur, iPhone enthusiasts have started using iPhones -- especially jail-broken ones -- to access and productively employ the corporate network, once again creating headaches for the IT mavens.

This is the way of all technology -- each generation leaves the last one in the dust. Most PC users use PCs most of the time to access fragments of information. It is only relatively rarely that a user needs a big screen to review information, and even more rarely does the user inputs large chunks of information. Smart phones such as the iPhone are already beginning to be used as the primary information technology device. In so-called 'developing' nations such as India, the mobile or cell phone has become the principal means of communicating, especially in text mode. A variety of status and other kinds of information is also delivered through the mobile phone. That and the rapid rise of services such as Twitter will likely lead to a shrinkage in the numbers of relatively large personal digital devices such as the PC and laptop and rise in the numbers of small, portable ones. More and more devices, appliances and machinery -- automobiles, washing machines, houses, watches, etc. -- are likely to gain communication capabilities and intelligences. Further, people are likely to trust the 'cloud' -- the network out there -- to store their information, thereby obviating the need to store it on hard drives on their own PCs or laptops.

Networks with distributed intelligence might be relatively less secure, but they are also relatively more failsafe. Distributed intelligence -- when designed with redundancies -- is especially immune to catastrophic failure.

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