With the help of two impressive demonstrations of Google Android-based mobile applications, company CEO Eric Schmidt addressed a rapt audience at his keynote presentation for the Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, Spain, laying out a vision for the future of mobile computing that could be distilled into a single phrase: Mobile first.
Schmidt kicked off the address by saying what an honor it was to speak at the conference, a place where "mobile phones even work in the elevator." He then read off a flurry of statistics highlighting the growth of the mobile industry, pointing out within three years sales of smartphones will surpass sales of PCs. He noted that in developing countries such as India, Google searches were more likely to be made on a mobile phone than on a desktop computer; he highlighted the rescue stories from the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake and called the mobile technology that enabled some of them fundamental to the human existence. "This is all part of the same view that information is fundamental, and the joint view that mobile communication is 'it,'" he said.
In Schmidt's view, he explained, the current mobile ecosystem and its future incarnation are the result of three intertwining factors: computing power, connectivity and cloud computing. "The Internet is humongous. The notion of publishing and microblogging is an explosion that will drive networks further into everything we do," he said. "Today's generation doesn't call it a mobile phone; they call it a phone. That's a win for everybody sitting here."
The mobile phone is the meeting point of these three trends, he said, and furthermore, any device that is not connecting in this way is considered not interesting, but lonely. As the mobile phone is the high-volume end point of these trends, it becomes the defining product in that space, he said. "It's like magic," he said. "All of a sudden there are things you can do you never even believed were possible."
This led to his belief in the "mobile first" doctrine, as Google programmers are doing work on mobile applications and technology first, because "mobile apps are better apps" and that's what top programmers want to develop. "It's more specific, more human, more location-aware, more satisfying to them," Schmidt said.
The first of the two presentations concerned Google voice search, which allows users to look up Spanish restaurants in Los Angeles, for example, or a nightclub in Berlin. Perhaps more impressively, a translation demonstration followed that showed a German-language menu translated perfectly into English after a photo of it was taken with a phone's camera.
The second presentation showed uses of Adobe's Flash technology, from watching movie trailers online to more educational and informative functions, such as zooming Google Earth in on the destruction in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince-specifically the shattered Presidential Palace and refugee camps nearby. Later the voice search function was used inside the Google Earth application to "fly" to Mt. Fuji in Japan, where the application's three-dimensional graphics capability was put on impressive display.
"The basic message is pretty simple. The confluence of these three factors (computing, connectivity and the cloud) means your phone is your alter ego, an extension of everything we do," Schmidt concluded. "Here, right now, we understand the new rule is 'mobile first' in everything. Perhaps the phrase should be 'mobile first' simply because it's time to be proud of what we have built together. Our job is to make mobile be the answer to everything."