Emerging Tech: Palm's Jeff Hawkins on the New Rules of Wireless

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 04-20-2006
Jeff Hawkins founded Palm Computing and Handspring Inc. Yet he doesn't consider himself a technologist. "I don't know if I'm even good at it," he says.

Hawkins is the creator of the Palm Pilot and the Treo line of smartphones, and has launched a new company, Numenta, that aims to build machines based on a theory of the human brain that Hawkins himself developed. Not a technologist? Beg to differ.

Read about what Jeff Hawkins has to say about his new approach to artificial intelligence.

Thankfully, Hawkins does admit he has a couple of thoughts on where technology is headed, and sat down with Senior Reporter Debra D'Agostino and Editor Edward Baker to talk about them. An edited version of his comments follow.

CIO Insight: Where do you see the next big push in emerging technology?

Hawkins: Well, there are two areas I know pretty well. One is neuroscience, the other is mobile computing. And in mobile computing, there's a lot going on.

On my Treo, for example, I have unbelievable amounts of information, much of it very competitive. And I carry it around with me all the time, and I can lose it in a moment. As mobility brings computing power out into the world, companies are struggling with how to manage it. Do you issue laptops or smart phones, or smart phones and laptops, and how do you deal with security issues?

These days, everyone has e-mail everywhere. People really, really like getting their e-mail on a mobile device, and it can replace the laptop in a lot of situations, though not completely. It's still very awkward to open your laptop at a moment's notice to check e-mail and other things. People like to have that immediacy. Meanwhile, laptops are expensive, and very cumbersome to administer from an IT point of view.

So IT departments are looking for systems that are cheaper—and safer—in the long term. Remote management is becoming very important. They want systems that have kill pills so if someone loses their device, the data can be erased remotely. It's very difficult to do that on a laptop today.

Are you saying the future of mobile computing is smart phones?

Well, I can't talk about future products, but I can say this: From Day One at Palm, back in 1992 when the company was formed, the mission statement has been that the future of personal computing is mobile computing. That does not mean PDAs by themselves, and it doesn't mean smart phones—these are just components of the broader mission of mobile computing. And we have never lost that vision.

In the future, I ought to have a small personal computer that turns on instantly, that's always connected, and is simply a joy to use. And we are moving in that direction. I think we can do a lot better than we're doing today.

How does device independence fit into that strategy?

If you really want device independence, you have to have a fast, reliable Internet connection all the time. That's the key. And it's happening now. To me, that's the most exciting thing going on in the mobile space. What will drive device independence more than anything else is the ubiquity of fast wireless networks. The best thing happening in mobility is the horse race between two competing ideas—3G cellular networks and Wi-Fi. This is a great battle.

There are people deploying Wi-Fi throughout every college campus, every business campus, and then it'll be towns and communities and cities, and this is going to continue. At the same time, the telecom carriers are introducing fast wireless cellular-based networks, but they want to charge a lot of money for them. And they're going to be forced to be more competitive both from a feature and a price point of view because they're going to be competing against very fast, inexpensive networks, the Wi-Fi network.

This is going to be a real boon for the consumer and for corporations. And I don't think there's a clear obvious winner between those two. I think they're going to coexist for some time.