Last month, our friend Phineas JW published a well-received article on AndroidGuys about Google’s (Not So) Secret Strategy. I loved the article, but couldn’t help being a little disappointed towards the end. Based on the title of the article, I expected to read about more than just a Killer App from Enkin which would wrap together Google’s Maps, Street View and Google’s enormous database of local information, along with an Android phone’s GPS system, into an extremely awesome navigation package.
Don’t get me wrong. I have thoroughly enjoyed Google’s maps saga so far. When they first introduced Google Maps, its Ajaxy goodness seemed like a great alternative to Mapquest. But each incremental feature and step they have taken with Maps and Earth has been awesome and shown that their ambition is beyond just a map application with a great interface. It points to how they are turning Maps-Earth into the heart of a different type of search engine. An engine which can give you every type of available information (both factual and social) about any location on Earth.
It’s the same with Google’s Android. It’s not just about a phone. It’s not even about a “live view” type of Killer App. They are going to turn it into the heart of mobile computing and mobile living like never seen before. Why do you think it is called Android (meaning a gender-ambiguous automaton or robot)? What type of name is that for a phone OS? Could it be that they envision the OS and the handheld it’s on to eventually morph into a type of personal valet-secretary-buddy device that accompanies you everywhere? What would that futuristic device do? Would it be a single device which would function as your phone-computer-camera-media-player-modem-wallet-credit-card-ID-card-photo-album-navigator-calendar-diary-scheduler-translator-remote-control-and-whatever-the-heck-else-you-can-think-of?
Given below are some of the ways in which an Android device (note that I’m not calling it a phone) could become your all-in-one valet-secretary-buddy:
A Universal Phone
The key word here is ‘Universal’. With advances in VoIP technologies, you should be able to use a single phone everywhere you go – home, office, travel. This is already a reality for most people. But the real cool thing about a universal phone would be that it would also facilitate IM and voice chat over all types of networks – Yahoo, Google Talk, MSN, Skype, etc. – at unbelievably cheap or no cost, from any place to any other place in the world. Further, you would no longer need a number to identify your phone. Phone numbers will be passe. People will call you using your preferred email address or chat ID. In fact, they can call you using multiple email addresses or chat IDs, if you so choose. A combination of Google’s Talk and Grand Central application, combined with inter-operability with other IM systems and telephone networks could easily put this functionality on your Android device for FREE! Carriers and long-distance telephone call providers will no longer be able to survive on revenues from voice calls alone.
What are the things you keep in your wallet? Money and credit cards. As I write this, there are many organizations, including big banks and small software shops, which are trying to come up with an easy, efficient way for people to use their cell phones to pay businesses as well as pay each other. The other thing we keep in our wallets are different types of cards – driver’s license, club membership cards, library cards, etc. It is not a big deal to digitize these cards and display them on the a handheld screen. The real challenge is in ensuring that the displayed information is authentic and accurate. This can be achieved by a system of exchanging encrypted authentication keys between the handheld and a verification device that would be used by the police, your club or library. What else? Photos? We can already display photos on phones. Keeping prints of photos in wallets is fast going out of fashion. By the time banks and different agencies agree on standards for payments and displaying identification information (like driver’s license, club membership, etc.) on a handheld, you can bet that your Android device would have been long ready to take on that functionality.
A Universal Modem
Once again, the key word here is universal. We are already familiar with people using the phone as a tethered modem for a single computer. With increasing transmission speeds and bandwidth, it won’t be long before we will be able to use an Android device as a modem for multiple computers at home, for the TV, and for any other device you want to connect to the network.
A Universal Media Player
This one’s already been done. Your Android phone can already play music and videos on itself. The day is fast approaching when you will be able to stream the same music and video to any device – your home theatre system, your car audio system, etc. And you will be able to do that in HD, no less.
A Universal Remote
This is another area where research and development is happening at a feverish pace in big companies as well as in small setups working out of a garage. The idea is a single soft remote control, which can be programmed to work with any device in the house, including your TV, music system, video player, computer, home lighting, home security, garage door opener… may be even the lock of your front door!
A Personal Computer
As more and more computing shifts to the cloud, and as your handheld device acquires greater on-board processing power and memory capacity, you won’t need a separate computer, other than the phone-shaped thing you hold in your hand. All you need to do is place it in a docking station, and you will be interacting with it using a full-size screen, keyboard and mouse. It will have all the functionality you would expect in a regular desktop or laptop computer. The lifestyle and productivity apps which are possible when you can carry around a full-powered computer in your pocket are only limited by the imagination.
These are just a few of things I could think of that an Android-powered device will be able to do in the not too distant future. There are no doubt countless other awesome possibilities we can’t imagine yet. The Official Google Blog had a piece yesterday in which they presented more possibilities in the future of mobile. In fact, Google pretty much confirmed my “valet-secretary-buddy theory” of Android saying, “Your phone is like your trusted valet”!
The technology needed to do all of the above is either already here or will be here shortly (in the next 1 – 3 years). In fact, the main bottleneck that is keeping all this awesome goodness from reaching your hands is the lack of universally accepted standards among multiple vendors and service providers. Patents and lack of standards is turning out to be a real stone-weight keeping technology from leaping forward as fast as it actually could. But that is a subject for a different post.
Here’s something that may be of interest to you. Another version of this article was published on my personal blog a long time ago in Oct 2005. That was long before any of us had heard rumors of an iPhone or a gPhone. At that time, I had envisioned Google creating a device called Google Buddy and described it in a ‘Notes from the future’ article, which was supposed to have been written in the future. A couple of friends who liked the idea commented that I remove the Google name from the article and call the device simply a Buddy. So, I removed all references to Google from the original article, but you call still see the comments from my friends. I never thought my idle dreaming about a super-convergent Buddy device would be turning into reality so soon, and that it would come from Google’s initiatives just as I had envisioned. May be I should take a part -time job as a psychic! ;-)