Virtual Mobile Infrastructure (VMI) will be the future of Mobile, so what do I mean by this?
For those familiar with virtual machines, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is creating lots of buzz these days. VDI means that the desktops/laptops in a large enterprise become just an input/output terminal device (think Oracle Network Computer 2.0), but the real machine spirit sits in a virtual-machine running on a shared server out in the enterprise cloud (similar to using logmein.com or windows remote desktop to access your computer remotely).
Large enterprises are very excited about VDI since it will enable them to tightly control the resources and avoid many administration headaches, e.g. if your physical laptop gets busted, they will not re-image your hard disks, re-install all your applications, and copy over your data, rather they will just give you a new terminal laptop so you can access the VM paired with you, and you will be up and running exactly like you were before. This doesn’t solve problem of your OS getting busted, since VM it self gets screwed in that case, but they can give you a VM checkpoint from a few days back. For offline operation you will need to download your VM to your terminal laptop but it might run slower in that case, hence you are incentivized to upload your VM back to the cloud once you get back to the office. VDI for small businesses also has a compelling story, this way Dell/HP/IBM can host all of the VMs on their side and administer the images for the small business, saving the small business from the hassle of hiring a full time windows technician in-house.
I claim that there is a much stronger need for this kind of virtual-pairing in the mobile world, and the reason for that is battery life. To run a multi-tasking operating system on a mobile device sucks out the battery energy very quickly, e.g. the few hours you get on the new iphones. But if the mobile is simply a display/input terminal and the real processing is done in the network by a virtual machine paired up with your mobile in the nearest cell tower, then that VM can keep checking for your email and run many apps without consuming any power from your mobile battery. Power will only be consumed when you are doing something visual. However, the challenge will be moving the paired VM with you to be in the closest cell tower to minimize the latency from the mobile device to the server hosting the VM. This virtual machine network will require very close collaboration between the network operators and the infrastructure providers, so this might be years out due to how slow these large companies move.
That said, check out this nice preso from Stanford that might enable such a future (supported by an NSF grant):