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Our Mobile Future: Expanding Usage and Improved Technology

The mobile web will only become more important over the next few years. Tens of millions of Americans already access the mobile web, and adoption rates are expected increase exponentially faster in upcoming years. One simple explanation for near-term growth is that many current users of more basic phones are tied into two-year device upgrade cycles because of their carrier contracts. Many of these users already know they will upgrade to an advanced phone and are just waiting for their current contract to expire.

More importantly though, mobile is exploding because significant technology improvements are driving Americans to the mobile web. Phones are being released with more sophisticated hardware and software. Over the past few years, technology commentators have made a habit of comparing the hardware found in advanced smartphones to that of desktop computers from a decade earlier. Their point was that powerful hardware, sufficient to accomplish all the tasks of a desktop computer from 10 years ago, could now fit into a small mobile phone. As a point of reference, an iPhone today has more computing power than all of NASA at the time of the first moon landing.
At the start of 2010, however, these "ten years behind" comparisons are no longer as apt. The most advanced mobile devices are now less than eight years behind desktop computers. Right now the most powerful touch phone available, the iPhone 4S, contains hardware more powerful than a 2002 iMac G4. Below is a breakdown of the two devices' basic specifications: 



Phone 4S (released 2011)

iMac G4 (released 2002)

Processor Speed


700 MHz


512 MB

256 MB


32 GB

40 GB

Many are predicting that as mobile devices will soon become our primary computing device. Steve Rubel, a prominent technology commenter, outlines this vision for the future of mobile and computing:
"As processor speeds increase and full graphics systems get embedded onto single chips, the phones will soon be able to embody a PC experience as soon as they get near a flat screen TV and a keyboard. Some data will be locally stored but the rest will be in clouds - either your personal cloud or your employers. Want a clamshell keyboard and screen like a laptop? No problem, soon we'll see "dumb shells" that encase phones so they can do more on the go. And as we see more and more data being stored on the cloud, more and more apps are being released that allow mobile devices to access cloud storage via smart phones."

In addition to hardware, software in mobile devices (especially web browsers) has improved significantly. Mobile browsers have long had a reputation for poor support of web standards and overall poor user experiences; however, newer devices now use the powerful WebKit engine to support web page rendering that is much closer to the desktop web.

Improved software and hardware are to creating better mobile user experiences, but mobile devices also require robust Internet connections. Fortunately, mobile carriers in the U.S. are beginning to deal with the large number of users that are adding mobile web data plans to their phone service and Internet speeds are improving for mobile devices across the country.