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Analysis

The 1985 iPhone in a truck
Bob Tarzey By: Bob Tarzey, Service Director, Quocirca
Published: 1st November 2011
Copyright Quocirca © 2011
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People of a certain age often enjoy recalling for younger folk the size of the early mobile phones that were lugged around in the mid-1980s, whilst marvelling at the latest smartphones. These brick-sized devices could not even send text (SMS) messages (the first of which was sent in 1992); they were good for voice only. But, what would it have taken almost three decades ago to have had all the capabilities of a 2011 smartphone based on the available technology of the day?

This was one of the subjects covered in a recent New Scientist article titled “They said it couldn't be done: 7 impossible inventions”. To quote the article:

The components for the iPhone à la 1985 we've listed so far would fill a large wheelbarrow. But we have left out something important.

The processor at the heart of the iPhone 4 can perform up to a billion operations per second (the new iPhone 4S is even zippier). You might have matched that in the mid-80s if you had bought the Cray X-MP, then the world's most powerful supercomputer. But the Cray would have filled an office cubicle and also required an industrial-strength refrigerator to remove the waste heat. So cancel the wheelbarrow. To haul the 1985 iPhone around, we're going to need a truck.

Interesting stuff, which underlines why the consumerisation of IT has become such a big issue. When I left the academic world for the commercial one in 1986, for the first time in my life, on my desk at work I had dedicated access to a computer (albeit a text-only dumb terminal) which was linked to a network providing me with any information my employer had stored that it felt would be useful to do my job. I also now had a telephone with its own number; my friends and family could now contact me when I was at work (before that hand written letters had been the main method).

The new entrant to the work place now has all this and much, much more in their pocket. This is the issue driving IT consumerisation. Employers can no longer impress new recruits with technology and connectivity, they are more likely to disappoint. Competitive employers today are those that allow their employees to use the advanced technology they have become used to at home in the workplace.

Consumerisation does of course throw up many challenges, not least how data security, contracts and billing are handled. These issues were discussed in a recent free Quocirca report “Carrying the can” sponsored by ttMobiles and the subject of a recent conference organised by the Wireless Improvement Group (WIG). Quocirca’s presentation given at the conference can be downloaded here.

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