Join Xconomy on March 9 as We Come to Grips with the Mad Pace of Change in Mobile Computing

2/10/10Follow @wroush

When people started lugging around the first brick-sized, 2G mobile phones in the late 1980s, I said to myself, “Eventually, those will be small enough and cheap enough that everyone will have one.” And what do you know—by 1999 I was carrying around a slim little Nokia candybar phone. When the Enterprise crew started using pad-sized computers on Star Trek: The Next Generation in the early 1990s, I said, “Eventually, our desktop PCs will be that small.” And it turns out we don’t have to wait until the 24th century—Steve Jobs is about to oblige with the iPad.

The point is that progress in mobile computing is relentless and surprisingly quick. 3G devices let us cruise the Internet at speeds we couldn’t have imagined on our home DSL connections six or seven years ago. The mobile app exchanges created by Apple, Google, Palm, Nokia, RIM, and others give software developers access to markets that didn’t exist as recently as 2007.

This dizzying pace of change clearly spells opportunity. But where can entrepreneurs find a foothold? That’s one of the big questions we’ll explore at Mobile Madness: The New Future of Computing, a half-day Xconomy forum coming up at the Microsoft New England R&D Center in Cambridge, MA, on Tuesday, March 9. (Register here.)

We purloined the event title from the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament, but there’s another obvious resonance to the name, which is that worldwide demand for advanced mobile devices is growing insanely quickly. (Smartphones will outship notebook and netbook computers globally by the end of this year, and will outship all PCs by 2012, according to Morgan Stanley’s December 2009 Mobile Internet Report.) That means workers and consumers will be accessing news, information, entertainment, and social networks in novel ways, creating many new business models while at the same time destroying old ones.

The speakers and panelists we’re lining up for Mobile Madness are among New England’s leading mobile executives, entrepreneurs, and activists; they represent success stories for an unsettling time. Jhonatan Rotberg, executive director of the Next Billion Network, an MIT-based effort to stimulate the creation of mobile applications for developing nations, will launch the event by talking about how mobile innovation can address global challenges. Kate Imbach from Mobile Monday Boston and Skyhook Wireless will follow up with a more localized overview of the funding picture for mobile enterprises in New England.

Then we’ll jump into a executive panel discussion taking a close look at how new mobile gadgets, new infrastructure technologies, and new monetization opportunities are shaping a generation of local startups. Our expert panelists will include Wendy Caswell, the CEO of Waltham, MA-based mobile printing startup Zink; Walt Doyle, the CEO of location-based mobile search provider uLocate in Boston; Greg Raiz, the founder and CEO of the Brookline, MA-based iPhone app development house Raizlabs; and Dan Olschwang, the CEO of Cambridge, MA-based mobile advertising network Jumptap.

Very soon, we expect to be able to announce one or two additional keynote speakers representing prominent infrastructure companies with very large footprints in New England. And we’re especially excited about the “Mobile Smackdown” portion of the program, where developers and entrepreneurs will go to the mat for their favorite mobile platforms and operating systems, such as iPhone/iPad, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile. The way we’re conceiving this segment, it’s going to be half trash talk, half reasoned debate (literally—30 minutes for each). We’re still recruiting participants, so if you know a local programmer who’s super-passionate about their iPhone or their Nexus One but can also articulate the pros and cons of each platform when it comes to building and selling consumer- and business-oriented applications, put me in touch with them (I’m at wroush@xconomy.com).

The final portion of Mobile Madness will be the Mobile Showcase, a series of lightning-fast presentations by local mobile startups and startup-related organizations, followed by networking with individual representatives of each company at tables in the (very posh) Microsoft reception area. The Showcase organizations we’ve signed up so far include Apperian, Appswell, Illume Software, the Public Radio Exchange, Roam Data, and Sand 9. Stand by, as we’ll be telling you more about each of them in the weeks to come.

Register to join all the mobile madness before the early bird prices disappear.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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