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Last month, I attended a talk by Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM ) Manager of Innovation & Technology Futurist, Joseph Dvorak, PhD. In the first section, Dvorak discussed four key trends he saw affecting the world over the coming years. In the second, he spelled out the emerging trends he saw for the smartphone market.
1. The arrival of the real personal computer
Pundits have been pontificating about the rise of the personal computer since the late 80's -- but how personal can a desktop computer truly be? Even a laptop still needs a bag to lug it around. With the rise of smartphones, consumers can finally have a real, personal computer.
While mobile data infrastructure is fairly mature in the U.S., amid incumbents such as AT&T (NYSE: T ) , there are opportunities around the world to exploit the same sort of predictable mobile Internet growth. For example, in Turkey, the Internet penetration rate is only 38%, while the mobile penetration rate is closer to 90%. Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation Turkcell, the country's leading cell phone provider with 55% market share, just recently rolled out 3G technology, and it's already signed up 1.7 million users. From March to November, Turkcell's total mobile Internet usage has grown sevenfold! As more people join Turkcell's 3G network, the company should do very well.
2. The phone becomes a sensor platform
It seems like only yesterday when my phone replaced my alarm clock. We've come a long way since then. The Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone's first fully functional navigation system, which challenged GPS makers like Garmin, nonetheless required users to pay At&T an extra $10 a month. Later, developers offered other GPS software for even cheaper rates. With Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Nexus One, that navigation is now standard.
But maps and GPS were only the beginning. Dvorak sees a world in which smartphones can be loaded with all types of sensors, detecting altitude, air pressure, weather, ambient light, and environmental and biological factors, among many other types of data. Already, companies are working to bring this technology beyond the realm of science fiction. Small developer Artificial Life's roster of mobile apps currently includes a diabetes monitor for cell phones, enabling patients to monitor their blood sugar, blood pressure, and even physical activities.
3. Balancing network vs. local intelligence
Over the past 20 years, disk density, processor speed, and RAM density have all grown exponentially, while wireless speed and battery power have increased linearly. Increasingly, cell phone manufacturers such as Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) and Palm (Nasdaq: PALM ) will have to decide between making the computing power stronger on the phone, or giving consumers a more battery-conscious basic phone with which they can access cloud-based mobile services online.
4. The worsening power gap
New tools and uses for your phone have expanded rapidly over the years, fueling equally steep power demands. However, battery power and battery technology have grown at a much slower rate. Witness the problems iPhone users have had with low battery life.
Several companies are finally beginning to focus on this conundrum. This past September, A123 Systems debuted on the market, providing investors a pure play on lithium-ion battery technology. A much more diversified bet would be Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) , which maintains a stake in Chinese company BYD. The latter business is investing heavily in the batteries, although it currently focuses on much larger cells for cars and for renewable energy storage.
The growing smartphone industry provides many opportunities for knowledgeable investors. With any luck, you now have a few more ideas for where to begin looking.