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Changing Usage Models: Desktops to Ubiquitous Cloud-Based Mobile Computing (Interviews with Semiconductor Industry - Part 1)

Posted by Maggie Huang at Sep 26, 2014 08:05 AM |
This is the first of a four-part blog series highlighting findings from a small sample of interviews with fabless semiconductor industry professionals in Taiwan. These industry insiders was approached for the intent of understanding expert knowledge on the process of integrated circuit design. However, the conversations resulted in leanings far beyond that scope. This post explores the trends of personal computing technology, which provides the pretext for the narrowing of the Pervasive Technologies project scope to a focus on the mobile phone.

Since the mid-1990s, the dissemination of information communications technologies (ICTs) has been hailed as the solution to bridging the digital divide. This rationale led to a multitude of programs, including One Laptop per Child, the Aakash tablet, and most recently, Modi's 'Digital India' campaign, to ensure all Indians have a mobile phone by the year 2019.

The Pervasive Technologies project looking at Access to Knowledge has come to understand that mobile phone technology have become ubiquitous, with 79% of internet users accessing the internet through mobiles in 2014. Particularly for low-income consumers, those who do not have access to computing rely on their mobile phones for accessing tools ranging from the common email, text messaging, calling; and the more advanced and revolutionary - mobile banking (e.g. m-PESA), crowd-sourced environmental protection (e.g. SpillMap), and more.

The evolution to the ubiquity of mobile technology was a valuable learning gained from recent interviews in Taiwan with professionals from the fabless semiconductor chip design industry. A senior executive with over 20 years experience in the field provided some insight to trends/changes in personal computing technology upon inquiring about the recent trends and changes within the industry.

One significant change that has been occurring is the usage model of consumers. Desktops and even laptops are not fully mobile since they cannot be used in one's hands. As broadband have become more pervasive, smartphones and tablets have resulted in new usage models where computing can be done virtually anywhere. People now tend to vale this more than the desktop experience.

The 'cloud' has also changed computing because the performance requirements for PC processors and other technologies no longer have to be as advanced. In addition, there has been a big shift from desktop content creation to mobile computing. This has mostly been catered towards content consumption (e.g. accessing email, viewing photos, using social media, etc.).

As a result of changing usage models and cloud competing, there has been a general industry shift away from computers. The PC market has slowed down, and the smartphone and tablet markets have exploded. They are generally cheeper, don't have as many bugs, and are much more convenient. Previously, the big names were desktop providers HP, and Dell; but now "there's less sex appeal around it… we're not excited by it.. it's the smartphone that's very exciting". The tech revolution has brought to light exciting smartphone brands like HTC, Samsung, Google and Apple.

In addition to big name smartphone brands, smaller, low-cost manufacturers like Xiaomi are developing a new business model through service, or application shopping. Prices of smartphones are continuing to decrease, so manufacturers using this model are looking to sell their hardware with smaller margins, and profit mainly through software. According to Digi-Capital, an investment bank for mobile apps and games, by 2017, mobile apps could reach $70 billion in annual revenue. Thus, greater affordability for the physical devices are naturally occurring within the market due to changing business models.

Accessibility of mobile phones through decreased costs are also supplemented by the trend of technology becoming much more open in the past 10-20 years. "One of the biggest challenges in the last 10 years is that you've got open source, you've got open hardware…things like the maker movement….", including Arduino, Linux, and others. There is a general market trend of consumers wanting to know more about their products.

However, one interviewee believed it was still much too closed, likening today's lack of openness to selling a vacuum cleaner without the user guide explaining how it works. "It's basically the same as buying a Hoover for home, and you don't get the user manual. How am I supposed to change the bag inside? They're not going to tell you."

When asked if this demand for more openness will change the industry, he responded: "There is a demand, there is a lot of demand, but very little supply. There is demand from the outside, and those within the company. We have to convince our departments to be more open. We have to convince the engineers. It's a lot like convincing politicians, there is no immediate reward."

Given these trends, it was of one interviewees' belief that increased accessibility of technology through both decreased cost and increased availability may not necessarily lie in the legal environment or the policy sphere, but rather requires patience for the industry to adapt to a changing marketplace.

Understanding the modes and mediums which information, culture, and ultimately knowledge is accessed is fundamental to the Pervasive Technologies research as an Access to Knowledge issue. Thus, getting a grasp on technological trends, and being able to predict upcoming business models was a very valuable learning.

Guha, Romit, and Anandita Mankotia Mankotia. “PM Modi’s Digital India Project: Government to Ensure That Every Indian Has Smartphone by 2019.” The Economic Times 25 Aug. 2014. Web. 2 Sept. 2014.

See the research proposal for the Pervasive Technologies project here:

“Smartphone Users Worldwide Will Total 1.75 Billion in 2014.” eMarketer. N.p., 16 Jan. 2014. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.

Takahashi, Dean. “Mobile Apps Could Hit $70B in Revenues by 2017.” VentureBeat. N.p., 29 Apr. 2014. Web. 7 Sept. 2014.

This will be further explored in the last blog post of this series.