Google CEO preaches 'mobile first'

Mobile devices have displaced PCs for computing, communications, Schmidt tells MWC

Google CEO Eric Schmidt put mobile devices squarely at the center of the computing universe in his first keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, in an address that follows mobile announcements of Apple's iPad and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Series.

In his address late Tuesday, Schmidt touted the growth and importance of mobile devices in fairly glorious terms and urged application developers inside and outside of Google to "work on mobile first," ahead of desktop computers.

Some of his observations apparently seemed obvious to industry insiders in the audience, whom Schmidt had to chide when they did not loudly applaud Google's latest search-by-voice and search-by-image applications.

Schmidt was right, in a way. Perhaps mobile phone industry insiders are jaded about how important smartphones and other small mobile devices have become, since they are so powerful, personal and portable.

He reminded listeners of two Haiti earthquake victims, one who used a mobile phone to help rescuers locate her and a man who used an iPhone App to diagnose his wounds.

However, for Google and other companies, the value of mobile phones is their sheer rate of adoption and their numbers in the hands of users. Schmidt noted that smartphone sales are growing at 30% year-over-year and will soon surpass global PC sales.

He argued that mobile Web adoption is growing eight times faster annually than Web adoption did 10 years ago for the desktop. Half the Internet connections are made by mobile devices, he said, noting that more Google searches are done on mobile devices than on desktops in emerging countries.

Schmidt took some tough, even angry, questions from his audience, who seemed to include network operators concerned that Google is trying to write smart applications that will render networks nothing more than "dumb pipes" that network operators can't make money on.

But Schmidt praised the value of good networks that manage applications appropriately and keep their quality of service high. He said the future of mobile devices, including the Google-backed Android OS, will require a merging of three things: powerful computing, efficient network connectivity and use of cloud servers for performing an array of sophisticated tasks that can't be done on the phone alone, such as voice and visual searches.

Android has catapulted Google into the center of the mobile phone business, with 26 devices on the market made with the help of 65 partners in 48 countries and in 19 languages, Schmidt said. He estimated 60,000 Android phones are shipping per day, double that of last quarter. "We hope that growth rate continues a long time," Schmidt said.

"The basic message here is that there's a confluence of three factors: computing, connectivity and cloud," Schmidt said. "The phone is no longer the phone, it's your alter ego. It's the extension of everything we are. It doesn't think as well as we do, but it has a better memory."

Appealing to his audience, Schmidt added, "This is the time for us, now is the time for us to get behind this. ... We understand that the new rule is mobile first."

In response to questions, Schmidt said he also felt that personal mobile videoconferencing "is the next interesting app" that will require powerful networks such as LTE and WiMax, both of which Google supports.

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