What is a ‘Mobile’ device after all?

The definition of what is really a ‘mobile’ device is really biased by the proliferation of smartphones and tablet devices. What we see and think of when we say the term ‘mobile device’, while most evident, is but a subset and really a minority of all that should be categorized as a ‘mobile’ device.
None of this was lost on me this morning as I started my day. I picked up my smartphone (yes, mobile device #1in my life) and headed to wake my son up. As we had breakfast and got in my car to take him to school, I encountered mobile device #2. In my car. It was my GPS device. It is not only a mobile device with an on-board operating software; it is also connected, as it gets traffic updates. I will not call my radio/CD player a mobile device as I have the old ‘dumb’ version of it in my car. Newer cars have mobile devices in their entertainment systems with Bing search, MP3 players, live music streaming and ability to connect to a smart phone via Bluetooth. Once I upgrade my car, I would have mobile device #3.
The UPS guy came by mid-morning with his mobile device to scan the package and take my signature. Mobile device #4. In the package I received mobile device #5 – a car FM transmitter/charger for my iPhone. This is a ‘smart’ device that has a paired App on the iPhone that tracks frequencies that have minimal interference where I am and suggests that I use them. My solution to ‘link’ my iPhone to my car till I upgrade the car. (Definitely cheaper than the latter option).
My iPad was mobile device #6. Laptop was mobile device #7.
It’s afternoon and my son comes home. After lunch he decides that it is too chilly to go outside so he decides to use mobile device #8 – his PSP Vita. Fully networked and with apps!
Later in the day, I plan to move to my laptop some pictures from my Sony NEX camera. This camera has more software than what was needed to put man on the moon, including software to manipulate and enhance images right on the device. Mobile device #9. If I do not talk myself out of it and go for a workout this evening, I will encounter mobile device #10 – my fitbit device.

What is a mobile device after all?

Wikipedia hints at being any device that is handheld, with a touchscreen and/or miniature keyboard. I personally believe that that definition is dated and incomplete. I would contend (and several executives at my employer IBM agree) that a mobile device is any un-tethered, portable device, with our without a touchscreen, but with some human-interface-device built-in. Be it a touch-screen, mini-keyboard, keypad, fingerprint reader, iris scanner, breath input mouthpiece… I would further qualify that in today’s world one would limit the definition of mobile devices to ‘smart’ devices. Those with active, interactive software. My electric shaver which tells me when to wash it would not qualify (it just counts the # of uses since the last wash, not actively measure the bristles in the blades). But my weighing scale that measures and tracks my entire’s family’s weight and BMI would.
This opens up a Pandora’s Box of what qualifies as a mobile development. It also tells us how fragmented the whole mobile device is. It’s not just iOS vs. Android vs. Blackberry. And this is just the beginning. Televisions are now smart, though not untethered yet – they need to be connected to a cable or satellite network via a cable. But I am sure they will get untethered real soon with all transmission coming in via WiFi. ‘Smart’ TVs already run apps. Google TV is changing the landscape some by allowing Android apps to run on a TV via Google TV.
In reality, the largest segment of mobile devices are really automobiles. All cars, trucks and two-wheelers have software embedded in their engines and electrical systems, not just the entertainment, navigation and comfort control systems. They can now tell you when the tires need more air, when the air filter needs to be changes, when you are drifting out of your lane and even parallel park themselves. And there are more automobiles on the planet than iPhones. And they are rapidly getting smarter…

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