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What's IBM's $100 Million Cell Phone Investment For?

IBM's just announced that it's pulled together $100 million to invest in future cell phone tech. It will be used to improve things like cell-phone security, user interface functionality, and business use of cell phones. But, when you get right down to it, what is Big Blue trying to do?

$0.1 billion dollars is a lot of money, but it's coming quite late in the game. A tech-savvy giant like IBM ought to have been pushing money in the direction of cell-phone tech for years—or at least since they became such ubiquitous devices. After all, the big names both in front of and behind the scenes of the cell phone have invested countless billions between them to develop the chips, software and everything else that makes the devices work. Even Intel's been pushing its processor research in that direction for a while, with the Atom chip arguably the first step towards getting a proper Intel-based CPU into phones.

Has it just taken IBM this long to realize what an amazing technological opportunity lies in cell phones? Possibly—giants do tend to take slow steps. But I suspect it's a bit more subtle than that. For sure, IBM may be interested in making money by improving current cell-phone tech. But in its press release on the matter, it noted the new research would help "the millions of people who have bypassed using the personal computer as their primary method of accessing the Internet and instead use their mobile devices." And that's really what this is all about.

smartbookEssentially IBM is hedging against a future where those "millions of people" turn into "billions of people." As smartphone tech gets smarter, we're all using mobile Internet more—a phenomenon being driven by the iPhone and its kindred. That trend is likely to continue as the devices one expected we'd be using tiny netbooks to surf the Web quite so much, for example. 

The next iteration may well be to merge netbooks and smartphones into a portable hybrid device, and that's where the smartbook makes its dramatic debut. Imagine a future where millions of people have a powerful computer that's say, twice the size of an iPhone, and transact much of their daily life through it. IBM can see that future, and similar ones like it, and would be daft not to invest in the tech behind it.

[via The New York Times

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