GreenTech LogoI recently ran across an interesting Jason Hiner piece that imagines how PCs and smartphones will converge in the near future. By "near" he is talking about 2013 or 2014. He observes that smartphones have already effectively converged with digital cameras, GPS navigators, and MP3 players, making the ownership of those separate devices superfluous for most casual users of them.

He forecasts that in a couple of years smartphones will become powerful enough to run a full desktop operating system that can do virtually everything a computer can do, including photo editing and high definition video conferencing. They will also be able to wirelessly dock to PCs to allow use of a full keyboard, mouse, and large LCD monitor. The proto example is the Motorola Atrix smartphone.

Such a convergence will have powerful implications for the speed that cloud computing will overtake all of us in developed countries. The robust smartphones of the near future will likely use a combination of mobile apps and cloud apps and because we'll dock them so much with our laptops, we'll begin using those types of applications much more on our computers as well.

Merge by Flickr user Lexinatrix

Of course Jason Hiner acknowledges that there will still be exceptions for people who rely on their computers to do more serious video editing, multimedia production, computer aided design, and software development.

An even greater and far-reaching implication is the problem of rich countries leaving poor countries even further in the dust. Most African and Latin American countries are on a completely different mobile phone infrastructure track. Developing countries are moving toward LTE or WiMAX to generate data networks. The handsets for smartphones using these technologies are still too expensive for most people in the regions of the world, and apparently 3G and 4G handsets that are used in developed countries are taking up most of the handset production oxygen.

In the developing world it doesn't even make much sense to talk about PC-smartphone convergence. According to the UN Telecommunications Union, mobile phone adoption is rapid with nearly 5 billion mobile phones now in use worldwide, including widespread adoption in Africa and Latin America, while PC adoption lags far behind. However, basic mobile phone infrastructure (not broadband data infrastructure) is far from completed in most countries including more advanced BRIC countries like India. 

This, however, doesn't alter the fact that mobile phone adoption in all parts of the world is one of the powerful drivers pushing us toward cloud computing. The near future is looking to be even more mobile with more fully integrated technologies. But what can we, as organizations working for social good, do to prevent a deeper technology divide as these cloud and mobile expand?

Photo: Lexinatrix