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The new digital revolution

Mark Easley | Thursday, February 3, 2011

While I was basking in the Carribean sun, jet-setting the world and such over break, I had an epiphany. At the airport, on the bus and aboard the boat, children were playing with their parents’ (maybe even their own) iPhones and iPod touches. Not the New Moon crazed tweens, but 4- to 8-year-olds who barely grasp the concepts of basic arithmetic. It is difficult to impossible to teach anyone over the age of 65 how to use a computer, but these little rugrats can operate quite a complicated technology with ease. Then it hit me, as it has hit other financial analysts and tech gurus. We are entering the next great tech boom.

Smart phones and tablets are constantly being advertised to us in the media for good reason. They bring instant connectivity in an easy to use and portable interface. This is strangely reminiscent of the early personal computer days, with all the excitement of the early internet boom. What’s still keeping people back, but not for long, is the price. Data plans and the hardware are expensive right now and not everyone can afford a pretentious Apple product or 3G, 4G and G-string data plans. But the masses want access to these products and more and more device makers and service providers will answer the call to create better products for a cheaper price.

The all-knowing and ever-prevalent internet is the big enabler of this new tech boom. What we are seeing is the drive to cloud computing and wireless connectivity. All data is stored and processed centrally and distributed to simpler machines for display and control via the network. It is now very easy to locate a wireless router, even in the most mundane places, and data coverage for phones is getting better every day. You see, the reason I don’t own a smartphone is because it is cheaper to run a basic cell phone and I get all the connectivity I need from my netbook. I recently switched over to netbooks from powerful gaming laptops because of the portability and the price,and they are great for class. Now with these newer and even more portable touch screen tablets, sometimes referred to as slates or pads, easy access to the web can be attained anywhere with some wireless signal. With the vast majority of daily tasks being web based, what more could you ask for? Tablets also provide a more comfortable format than a pocket-sized hand-held device, although many will opt for the convenience of being able to easily carry around a link to the net in their pocket.

There are many applications for these technologies that will allow them to be successful and widespread. The educational benefits are enormous. Imagine children being able to carry around a tablet in elementary school that can have access to network based educational apps, to improve learning and knowledge gathering. Even high school and college students will be able to carry around their light and portable devices to classes. As software continues to migrate to the Cloud, you will be able to do everything you can do now on your computer from a tablet or smart phone. Word processing, email, document viewing, presentations, image editing, video streaming, gaming and even a virtual desktop and software development tools can be accessed quickly and easily. Easy enough an 8-year-old could figure it out.

The price of these new tech devices will decline as competition and efficient production methods further develop in the near future. I foresee basic but very functional models will become as affordable as current netbooks in a few years, especially with the more frequent use of open source software. This will be a real game changer because even more people all over the world will have access to the Cloud and compete in the global market place. We may even begin to see the decline of traditional phone use in the U.S. as VoIP calls become more widespread with the inevitable lowering of data plan prices.

It’s not too late to change your major to Computer Science and Engineering. It is quite an exciting time in the field.

Mark Easley is a junior majoring in computer science. He can be reached at measley@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.