Technologies for the new age of mobility


The talk of the IT industry is that we are about to enter a new age of mobility. But as the market for mobile phones and chips is actually falling, it is important to seek the deeper trends beneath the vendor puff.

The semiconductor industry posted a decline in revenue for only the fifth time in the last 25 years in 2008, according to Gartner. The analyst reports that global mobile phone sales are being hit even harder, with a record 8.6% drop in sales during the first quarter of 2009.

 But not all areas of device manufacturer are struggling. The new age of mobility requires a new age of mobile devices, with technologies and applications to match.

Gartner says sales of multimedia-enabled smartphones – such as Apple’s iPhone or RIM’s BlackBerry – rose 12.7 per cent in the first quarter of 2009. In fact, smart devices should account for at least half of all mobile phones by 2012.

 So, why the rush to smartphones? And from accelerometers to micromachines, what are the technologies that will drive the next stage of device interactivity?

 Apple’s iPhone uses an accelerometer to automatically reorient the screen to landscape when the device is tipped on its side. Nintendo’s motion-sensing Wii controller uses an accelerometer, too.

Consumer demand for smarter applications on interactive devices means growth will continue, with market researcher iSuppli expecting the market for accelerometers to almost double by 2013 and hit $1.7bn.

It is not just about mobile gamers, either. Due to the continuing spread of consumerisation, businesses are being forced to find innovative ways to adopt the collaborative and interactive technologies that many employees now take for granted.

The use of accelerometers is part of a broader use of micromachines, a set of minute components and a microprocessor that allow mobile devices to act smart. Certain micromachine technologies, notably inkjet printing, are already commonplace in business.

Technology firms are now finding other pioneering ways to ally micromachine and mobile technology. Take Texas Instruments, which is pioneering the use of micro projectors and digital light processing in portable devices.

Or computer giant IBM, who continue to work on the Millipede data storage project and which aims to provide data density of more than one terabit per square inch.

Such developments help to illustrate why traditional semiconductor revenues are struggling and sales of smart devices are soaring. Micromachine technology means that a new age of mobility is fast approaching.


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