July 24, 2006 5:59 PM PDT

Does cell phone's impact outweigh PC's?

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Which technology has had the most impact in the last 25 years?

The cell phone, according to well-known IBM software developer and blogger Sam Ruby. Though his represents just one opinion, Ruby made a strong case for why the cell phone outstrips the PC in terms of effect on the world.

"It's killing the landline; it's killing watches; it's changing the camera business; it's changing the TV industry, the music industry," Ruby said Monday at the New Paradigms for Using Computers (NPUC) 2006 workshop at the IBM Almaden Research Center here.

"It's destroying the pay-phone industry. It's hurting the hotel industry and putting the squeeze on universities," he said during a talk titled "Teenagers on the Go." To highlight the future stability of the device, he added, "Teenagers love the cell phone."

Still, when it comes to hotels, members of the audience questioned cell phones' impact. Ruby answered that they're undermining a long-time source of revenue from premium phone calls.

In the future, he said, cell phones will become even more important as gadgets for navigation, search and entertainment. Imagine MapQuest or Google in your ear, Ruby said, referring to people with cell phone earbuds. People could use voice commands to ask for directions, check gas prices or find deals at the grocery store.

Ruby's discussion was framed by his experience as a parent and open-source software developer--he helped develop the Atom content-syndication format and he's presently a senior technical staff member at IBM's emerging technologies group. He's also father to two teens, ages 14 and 18, who are active on the Web.

Ruby made other projections about the future of the Web. For example, he said, the Web has replaced the desktop in some ways, but now the Web itself is in danger. Why? Ruby believes that based on usage by younger generations, instant messaging will usurp the Web and the phone as the dominant mode of communication.

To kids, e-mail is a tool for parents and teachers, Ruby said. The move away from e-mail will take wider hold as spam continues to pollute the medium, he said. Instant chat, in contrast, is the de facto technology for kids and teens who want to talk to friends.

"E-mail's a goner, it's just a matter of time--just the way phone service is," said Ruby. "But again, we all still have one."

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7 comments

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What do kids know
Kids use IM because they have nothing to say and the attention span of a gnat. The phone is definitely doing to the PC what the PC did to big iron 25 years ago, no two ways about it. Integrating stereo bluetooth and wifi makes the mobile phone a killer app. The only hassle is pumping the display out to a monitor or TV wirelessly.
Posted by sean_o_n (9 comments )
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Wrong analysys
OK, let's imagine the world without cellphones. It would be more difficult to communicate, we would still use payphones when on the road and would pay more for calls while on local travel.
Most business outside that particular industry would not be changed much, though.
Now imagine a world without personal computers.
The web wouldn't exist. We wouldn't have access to the information we do have now at work and at home. We would still access most news through the TV and the newspapers, and would have access to a limited number of often controlled news. We would still be writing letters and waiting for weeks to hear news from far away friends and family. Lots of today's business would not exist, as many business models are not viable without computers, and many others are technically impossible to run without PCs.
We would still buy CDs to listen to music and would rely on magazines to learn what's hot and what's not.
And you wouldn't be reading to this post.

Finally, relying on children's behavior as a predictor of the future is fundamentally flawed. Kids don't use email because they tend to have much shorter messages to communicate and the communication is not used to build something collaboratively. Try to do a financial analysis report over SMS.
If this kind of analysis were right we could predict that, in 30 years, we will all have pimples and use skateboards as our main method of transporttion
Posted by herby67 (144 comments )
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Kudos
It's nice to know that there are others out there that are just as competent as the proffessionals! I especially like the part about the pimples and skateboards.
Posted by cpipkins (5 comments )
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Ruby analysis
Some of the comments don't consider bandwidth. Sometime, sooner than later, electrical deployment (BW) will be available at just less than 1 ghz......Ummmmmm to all the naysayers.
Posted by heritagejd (8 comments )
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No Way!
The PC has killed dozen's of businesses, jobs and paradigms--albeit often by replacing them with new businesses. Look at real estate, brick/mortar stores, tax collection, travel agents, music industry, booksellers, photography, graphics development, and on and on and on. When was the last time most of us used a travel agent to buy tickets? How many books have you bought from a brick/mortar booksellers? When was the last time you carried a roll of film down to the one-hour processor to get crummy, unedited images back? The last time you bought an expensive, new product, where did you get your reviews and opinions? The cell phone is a minor blip in the road of progress. It's a silly supposition to suggest otherwise!

mark d.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
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Wrong question
Where would the cell phone industry be today without the PC?? (not to mention, a host of other industries)
Posted by JeffW42 (44 comments )
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Chicken or the Egg
What came first the chicken or the egg, I don't know. What I do know is that the PC has spawned countless numbers of new inventions one of which is the modern day cell phone. In essence the PC gave birth to the modern cell phone "a portable, connected mini computer". By listing all the functions of the cell phone you have to ask yourself would that be possible without the invention of the PC? Especially "software", would we even know what that word means without the existence of the PC? How would the cell phone perform all these task without software?
Posted by justmo (1 comment )
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