The Great Convergence
Originally posted on Half an Hour, January 11, 2010.
Summary of a talk by John Paul Shen, head of the Nokia research Center, Palo Alto, at the IEEE Consumer Communications and Networking Conference.
There is a collision of two different cultures (open, closed) and four different industries (internet, computers, mobile phone, cellular networks).
Eg. We at Nokia want to play in this space too, we want to be more than just devices. Similarly, companies that are in computer industry want to sell mobile devices.
In this convergence space, there isn’t an existing dominant incumbent.
Also, you have other industries coming in – automotive, consumer electronics, entertainment, content industries.
The next 5-10 years will be a phase of phenomenal innovation, because you have these industries coming together. It’s going to be a golden age for researchers, because of the opportunity to create impact.
Nokia research is focused on four areas:
- rich context modeling
- new user interface
- high performance mobile platforms
- cognitive-radio (ie., new uses for radio spectra)
Nokia’s research approach:
- first, an organic team formation – researchers with broad backgrounds and a practical focus, people with a broad view of what counts as research (can publish at top conferences, or can sit down with developers); researchers ‘vote with their feet’ to join whatever team they want; people can create new teams, that operate like a startup, and we depend on a charismatic team leader to drive the process
- second, we do end-to-end rapid prototyping (a McGyver approach) – research moves from a stable phase to ‘Cambrian phase’ with lots of entropy, and then to a stable phase – we are in a Cambrian phase, which means research much be very quick, to seize opportunities
- third, we thrive in the ‘valley of death’ that lies between pure research and market opportunity – a lot of research dies in this valley, but this is where we live
- fourth, we build strategic partnershios in an open innovation model
The future of computing:
- is not yet completely mobile; we will be purely mobile – it’s mobile like an umbrella is portable, but in the future it will be portable like glasses are portable
- is not yet really personal, others can use our computer, it’s personal like ‘my hat’, but in the future, it will be personal like ‘my denture’
Three possible approaches:
- rich approach – this is the technology approach, most tech companies want to do this, they just add more and more features
- thin approach – you use a thin client, and you come to us for everything – this is a business perspective
- but what you really want is the third approach, called ‘fit’, which is based on users’ needs – you have to focus on what users really want; users are more diverse than ‘PC users’ – you have to look at what people really need and provide them with what they need
You want to maximize your user experience to energy ratio – maximize the user experience, and minimize the energy consumed.
Energy is a huge issue – not just of devices, but also back-end servers. We need to improve energy efficiency by at least 20x, if nit 50x. A laptop is 20 watts, the portable is 3 watts, and we want to get it down to 1 watt. Also, a genuinely portable device needs to be always on – it may be doing a lot of things in stand-by mode, but we want it to consume zero power.
We also want smart parallelism (parallelism is the use of many small CPUs instead of one big CPU). We need a flexible energy-efficient parallelism; we want to adapt the parallelism relative to workload demands. We are also moving from SOC (system on chip) to SOS (system on stack) (where a stack is a bunch of chips connected together). These combine with form factors – eg., you might want your phone to be bendable.
In the area of user experience, you want, first of all, ubiquitous interoperability. All your digital devices have to interoperate seamlessly. Nokia would like to see your phone as your primary hub controlling all these devices. And not only devices, but also content. Eg., you have a camera, you upload photos to your PC, you upload to Flickr, and you have images on your phone, etc. – you have to provide seamless access to all your content.
Additionally, your device should be context-aware – it knows a lot about you, and beyond just a personal thing, but can we also aggregate and crowdsource information, to do this big social science? Finally, we want ‘delightful and playful interactions’. This (of course) needs to be done in a privacy-preserving way.
Some Nokia projects:
- the automotive environment – can we get Nokia to interoperate with the car? The main problem is that the car will take 7-8 years in development, and then after it’s sold, it will be kept 7-10 years. Development of the phone now is 1-2 years. So we need some sort of seamless interoperability to be able to leverage mobile phone innovation to add functionality to the car.
- community-enhanced traffic - we should never be surprised by a traffic jam, there are people who have already hit it, they should be able to tell me; in the same way, if I can offer up a little bit of my GPS information, I can help them; so we can crowd-source traffice information even on roads that don't have sensors.
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