Back in 2007 I had what I thought at the time was a unique brainstorm in the area of computing and communications. Noting the quickening convergence between PCs and cell phones, I suggested that the obvious next step would be to bridge the two in a way that had not yet been done: shrink the PC down to a credit-card sized contraption about 5 mm or so thick and encapsulate it in a format that allowed it to be plugged in, PC card style, into an array of device “skins”. In essence, a core engine that could drive your cell phone, GPS device, netbook or even desktop PC. The skin, or shell, would contain or connect to all of the audiovisual interfaces and the main power supply… although the engine would of course have to possess its own energy storage for transport between uses.
Little did I know when I first made that whimsical post that IBM had already started down that path with the Meta Pad project. Unfortunately their intent seemed to be more proof-of-concept than anything they intended to develop further much less market (a different story, however, with IBM’s Cell technology, designed for a different purpose).
More recently, Information Week announced the development of a similar concept, Modu. This device is more limited in scope in that it will certainly not power anything greater than perhaps a Mobile Internet Device (MID). However, it definitely gets us closer to my plug-and-power-anything dream. At the very least, the Modu engine could drive a variety of mobile devices and perhaps even find its way into uses the originators have not yet imagined.
The main hinderance to realization of my own modular fantasy is CPU power… but even that hurdle is rapidly eroding. Intel’s Atom processor hints at even greater things to come size-vs-power-wise as Moore’s Law continues to hold fairly steady (notwithstanding the occasional breather).
So as the advances continue, the question in my mind remains: will we see the necessary convergence in technology and business activity that will manifest in truly modular computing devices? Can we even dare to imagine that the “credit card computer” will eventually become a reality?
We haven’t even begun to really tap the power of nanotechnology in mainstream electronics, so who knows what the future may hold for mobile computing. Maybe some years from now, perhaps even in my lifetime, the current complaints against the bulk of niche devices like Nokia’s internet tablets will fade as we quantum leap toward this new paradigm. I’ll touch more on this in another article… stay tuned!
Thanks to Stephen Gadsby for pointing me toward the Meta Pad.