Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Complexity and the Future: Revisiting technological foundations of Smart Phones

Every once in a while it is good to sit back, take a deep breath and look at the state of things.

As technology hurls forward we accept building complexity upon complexity.

The Internet is very complex. Fine. I would call it "deeply" complex. In that manner, it is similar to an organism. However, it is based upon a very simple infrastructure called IP (Internet Protocol). Upon that we have a host of other protocols with the most pervasive being TCP.   From there, the complexity escalates rapidly.  But that's okay.  Underneath is TCP/IP and I can always grab hold of it -- it is the earth, solid and firm beneath my feet.

Now, my phone is very complex. A Smart Phone is  made up of a bunch of software. Let's consider Android. Underneath is a Linux kernel (but you can't normally touch that -- imagine floating about the earth just a few inches but never touching ground). On top of that there are processes, a VM, and a bunch of apps.  Oh, and off to the side is the actual phone stuff (sacred and untouchable).

Every once in a while the phone gets slow or needs a reset.  It is indeed a complex beast.

I'm okay with the Internet being unfathomable by a single mind, but my Smart Phone is headed firmly in that direction. So many things working together, so complex. But, unlike the Internet, my phone's software is not self healing. There is no notion of routing around bad processes or chips. When bad things happen, the phone is nearly useless.

What if I want to just make a phone call? Or perhaps send a text message.  Maybe all I want is to message someone over the internet or read my email?

What if we stripped a smart phone of everything but the communication essentials.

Nokia is trying to (re)find a niche. They are offering a new phone for the third world:
This will sell for about $20 in the European market.  The standby time is 35 days.

If there were a bunch of these phones deployed with free text messaging, what could you do with it?
What if there was a slightly better alternative to SMS (larger payload). Or perhaps a multi-segment protocol on top of SMS that the phone could parse.

Why does the entry level into the 21st century Internet require a Smart Phone ($$$)?  Why can't I have a slightly dumber phone that plays well on the Internet?

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