Where mobile technology is heading, from 2011 to 2020

The iPad and iPhone are just the beginning of the mobile revolution under way; here's what to expect in the coming decade

It's been barely four years since Apple's iPhone changed the expectation of what a smartphone should be and inspired a trend that will deeply affect many companies' technology and business operations. In fact, it already has. And in just the last two years, every major smartphone platform has undergone significant change in response, adapting to the iPhone example and adding unique value on top of that. I expect the pace of change to remain swift, and for the mobile momentum to be as strong and as far-reaching as the PC and Internet revolutions provided to be.

In 2010, we saw three significant developments that set the stage for the mobile revolution to start. With that base established, the real potential can begin So, here are my predictions for the key mobile developments over the next decade. The future rarely unfolds as anyone predicts, but I believe that, directionally at least, here's what you should prepare for. And for a great analysis on where mobile technology is heading and its implications on IT and business strategy, check out this new PwC PDF report on mobile computing.

[ Learn how to manage iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys, and other smartphones in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. | See the 10 biggest mobile failures of 2010 in our "road warrior roadkill" slideshow. ]

2011: The slate device, as pioneered by the iPad, will rapidly gain adoption as a new type of device for information consumers and on-the-go transactors, as Android and perhaps other operating systems are adapted for them. Unlike the netbook, their use and capabilities will only grow, eventually replacing laptops for lightweight uses and beginning to make videoconferencing a common activity.

2011: Mobile management tools will handle most if not all the major smartphone platforms, giving IT the necessary assurance over security and compliance at an acceptable level of overhead.

2011: Apple and Google, at least, will provide desktop-equivalent browsers for their mobile platforms, so iPads, iPhones, and Androids can be equally functional on the Web as Macs and PCs are.

2012: The major mobile platform makers will deploy APIs for tapping into sensor data and sensor controls, some in competition with each other and some as joint private standards; they will also ask W3C to consider them as formal extensions to HTML5.

2013: Touch-based user interfaces become more sophisticated, adding motion in 3D space as additional context for user interactions (the "shake" control in an iPhone today is a primitive example of the 3D gestures I expect to see). 3D displays will become available as well.

2013: Mobile wallet technology, initially using screen-presented bar codes as now used for airline boarding, will become standard in smartphones and transaction terminals. The new Android OS 2.3 "Gingerbread" released in December 2010 gives a hint of what is to come.

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