How today's tablets and smartphones will morph into remote controls in 2013

An old TV remote control. Credit: Oskay via Flickr

Smartphones and tablets are amazing tools, but their capabilities are just starting to be fully developed. Starting in 2013, smartphones and tablets will take on important new roles as remote controls for a wide variety of new services in the home and in the enterprise.

That's the belief of Scott Davis, the CTO of the end user computing business unit at VMware, who spends a lot of time thinking about how technologies are being used by consumers and what is coming in the future.

In a recent technology predictions post on VMware's Office of the CTO Blog, Davis wrote that these gadgets will start to become "remote controls" for an expanding field of cloud-based capabilities that allow users to connect with a myriad of devices or processes, no matter where they are located.

For the enterprise and for consumers, the possibilities are almost endless.

"We're already seeing wallet apps for credit card payments, airline boarding passes, coupons, etc.," Davis wrote. "Why carry a separate badge or smartcard when everyone has a smartphone and the phone is fully capable of running sophisticated authentication applications that can interface with backend services and securely identify the user?"

And that's not all, said Davis. Other new capabilities he expects to see soon from smartphones and tablets include biometric authentication via smartphone camera or through a touchscreen, as well as the ability to use speech to input information and user authentication.

"How about a remote starter for your car and its heating system?" he wrote. "Or keyless entry?"

"When you start thinking about historically dumb devices with analog controls having digital interfaces, coupled with ubiquitous communication and simple control messages via web or SMS, it's not a big step to think about distributed control and where that can lead convenience wise," wrote Davis. "And the input can actually be voice. 'Siri, dim the lights!' In 2013, these scenarios will move further from novelty to mainstream desirable reality."

Some houses being built today are pre-equipped with an iPad app that can control many features in the home, bringing remote control to a wide range of environmental systems.

The fuel for all of this possibility comes from an unexpected source. These innovations aren't coming due to the advances we have seen in smartphones and tablets or the mobile operating systems that typically run them. Instead, Davis said, these still-developing remote control capabilities are the result of cloud computing and its ability to provide a high-powered back end for low-powered mobile devices we can hold in our hands and take with us anywhere.

"There's massive processing going on in the back end to deliver that," Davis told CITEworld. "It's not that we're sending the data to the smartphone, it's that we're activating a process in the back end."

That leverage of the cloud is what provides these new capabilities, he said. A great example of that is Google Now, the Google service that allows a user's device to automatically receive pushed updates about weather conditions, local train schedules, local events and more.

"It's actually watching what you're doing, what queries you type in and it's remembering them and delivering to you the content that you are asking about," said Davis. "It's loading traffic information ahead of time," even before you are on the road, as it anticipates when you are leaving on a commute. "This is not technology that's running on the smartphone. It's technology that's running on the cloud. The user interface to it is the smartphone or the tablet."

And that's the key to unleashing these mobile services of the future, through the expansion of these kinds of remote control capabilities between the cloud and these devices, said Davis.

"It's a new way, almost the next generation of client server from the Windows era," he said. The old three-tier structure from the past – the presentation layer on the client, the business logic layer on the application server and a database on the back end – has really changed in the cloud era, he said.

"In the PC era, we were typically wedded to one device, to one system, so a lot of context was on that system alone," where the local data files were stored. "In this new era where we are using multiple devices through the day, the things you are doing on them are backed by cloud services."

With smartphones and tablets as remote controls, that's a very different client-server model that no longer relies on a fixed point of reference for data or even for hardware. It's about delivering the data to the device being used by a user at that moment, wherever they are located.

"It's not simply about bringing the latest, hot things into the enterprise," said Davis. "It's about getting your work done in the most efficient ways possible."

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