Three years to every mobile decade

Writing today's story on the the Galaxy Nexus on Sprint for $200, plus two-year contract, Galaxy Nexus arrives at Sprint on Sunday for $200 with 2-year deal, made me think how experts estimate we see a decade's worth of changes in mobile computing in just three years.

It's just one of those fun comparisons designed to show how quickly mobile computing is evolving, compared to, say, desktop computers or something like electric cars vs. gas-powered models.

We are now seeing quad-core phones emerge, along with 12 megapixel rear-facing cameras. The iPhone was only announced in 2007, but the mobile technology improvements have been prolific.

But there's something else: prices that might have surprised us a year ago.  Verizon Wireless sells the Galaxy Nexus for $300 on a two-year contract, with the obvious advantage of already having an LTE network widely in place in more than 200 cities. Sprint's $200 value is for using its existing 3G network, which might only be one-tenth as fast as its coming LTE network, not starting up until mid-year, and only in six cities to start.

Competitive pricing could be just as important to customers as an enriched set of phone features. Sprint's still holding strong with unlimited data, but it isn't going to last forever. Sprint puts the Galaxy Nexus in its Everything plans with smartphones that start at $80 a month. Hopefully Sprint's beneficence will last a tad beyond the launch of its LTE markets.

Some of the more encouraging and thorough accounts of pre-paid phone pricing and cutting down on monthly post-paid service costs have come from J.R. Raphael, a Computerworld colleague, who found an IT manager, John Bowdre, who bought an unlocked Galaxy Nexus for $560 (a deal) and then set up T-Mobile service for just $30 a month. Bowdre is what I'd call an IT hero for doing that, and a lesson to us all.

Covering IT folks for years, one thing i've learned is that second in importance to them of a new device or IT service is what it costs.  So many bloggers today fawn over new smartphones and tablets for their great cameras, stylish looks and high resolution displays but never really discuss costs at all.  But IT folks have to live in a world where cost is paramount.

Seeing that some customers are indeed shopping around for the best deals, it's a great country after all that has encouraged competition and keeping several carriers in the game who can offer new technologies (for networks and devices) AND with an eye toward keeping device and service costs in check.

I plan to keep griping whenever the carriers bump up prices, as they will,  but I do sometimes have to pinch myself when I realize how sophisticated much of the technology has become. I have to remind myself constantly that I couldn't even call AAA from a portable cell phone in a stranded vehicle on a cold dark night 10 years ago. By my calculations, that's at least three decades in mobile computing time. (And lately, I'd say a mobile computing decade is just two years, not three.)

Post script: Sprint's Galaxy Nexus will have Google Wallet, not available with Verizon's version.  I'd be interested to know how many readers care about Google Wallet and, more generally, mobile wallet payments.  If Apple offers mobile payments with NFC in its next iPhone, it might take off, some believe. But mobile payments are so far  slow to catch on in the U.S., partly due to user skepticism and worries about security, which should be a non-issue, but isn't.  

So tell me in comments here or in email, what you think about Google Wallet and mobile wallet with NFC.  I'm at mhamblen@computerworld.com  

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