Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Future power in your hands

Computing technology is changing. New tablets such as Apple's iPad are making it possible for the computer to take a simpler form while allowing you to hold the Internet in your hands. The iPod changed the music industry but was simply a music player. The iPhone changed the mobile phone industry but was simply a better way to provide communications (cellular & internet) on a phone in your pocket. The iPad brings a change to the way that we think of a computer. No longer need it be a machine that you have to sit in front of at a desk or a power-hungry, over-provisioned, notebook which either requires a table like the desktop or needs to be balanced on a lap. Portable computers until now have either been shrunken versions of the desktop with all the complexity that entails (an artificial mouse or trackpad pointing device, a hierarchical file system, maintenance of applications and upgrades, etc), or underpowered netbooks (with all the same complexity).

Now there is a new form of computer, which puts power directly and immersively into the users' hands. It abstracts away many of the artificial metaphors that were devised for personal computers. It puts the content that users are really interested in (webpages, email, photos, video, music etc.) centre-stage, and lets the computer seemingly disappear.

In the future, the computer will disappear further ... it will become pervasive and integrated amongst us. The human-machine interfaces we use will become more natural and immersive. Some will be integrated with the human being. Until then, lets welcome the chance to take the power of the Internet into our hands and off the desktop.

Monday, 26 April 2010

The slow death of the floppy

Well, the floppy disk may be finally coming to its full demise ... Sony are to stop making them as of March 2011. It has been a long slow death. Apple quit including them in their desktop computers way back in 1998. It took a further 5 years before Dell did the same with its PCs. However it has been another eight years before this halt in production. They are finally following the five and a quarter and eight inch floppies which preceded them.

In general, it seems as if the more innovative companies not only introduce more new ideas but are also pre-disposed to phase out older technologies sooner. As the speed of technology change speeds up, future technologies will die more quickly than older ones did.

In the case of long term storage technologies, it is worth people considering the safety and future accessibility of backed up or other potentially valuable data. Not all storage media is as long lasting as some mistakenly believe, and even if the data is still stored, one needs to ensure that the technology to read it is still available and compatible with new computing devices.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Politician's idea of Future

And so those of us in the United Kingdom are now in the midst of a general election campaign, with all the politician's trying to woo the public to vote for them. The present incumbent of 10 Downing Street, Gordon Brown, has chosen as a main strapline, that he and his party are for the future! But a politician's idea of future is rather different to mine. They have a very short time horizon, corresponding to the next 5 year term of office. This is a pity, given that many of the big issues that they need to face for the good of the country and deal with are much longer term ones.

None of the candidates have very much to say about the pensions crisis which is simmering. On economics they talk about the current huge deficit but only chip away with token suggestions of how to save a few billion here and a few billion there, when the problem is at least an order of magnitude bigger and will take more than the next few years to deal with. On health, they acknowledge new drugs and treatments but again there is no long term strategy for dealing with what these issues together with the demographic trends are telling us. Financing care of the elderly features in manifestos but in debate is usually left as something important that needs attention ... yes but what? The information technology strategy is also piecemeal whoever you listen to, and rather lacking in ambition when it comes to the penetration of a super fast broadband infrastructure. Energy security and the environment is yet another long term issue that could do with better answers and ideas. In fact most areas featuring in the manifestos of the parties would benefit from consideration beyond the parliamentary timeframe and perhaps some consensus between parties, leaving philosophical and ideological differences clearer and real choices to the electorate more apparent.

My clients, whatever their industrial or commercial sectors, almost always have some foresight to want to explore the possible disruptive futures over the longer term of decades... it's not at all obvious that our political parties either do the same or when they do, make use of it.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Computing for the rest

So this weekend, the public in the USA finally get their hands on Apple's new iPad, announced amid the usual frenzy back in January. At the time, I blogged about how I saw this as a computer for other people ... like my parents, and others who don't really want a computer... they just want email, the web, photos, and access to the modern media that computer owners have.

They don't want a mouse and keyboard, or lots of cables connecting everything together, nor do they want a computer taking up space on a desk in the lounge, which they have to go and sit at to make something happen. They don't want to have to bother about viruses, trojans and other malware that they've heard about from computer-owning friends and family. They don't want a steep learning curve for the new technology either, and many no longer have a tech wizard of a child at home with them to fix it or help when unexpected things happen.

Instead they want a simple, pleasant and responsive experience. They want to access content without being concerned with file systems and folders and installing programs. They want to share content worthy of mention by passing it around or holding it up, like they would if they saw something of note in a newspaper or magazine. They want to be able to access the content without consciously 'logging-in', or supplying PIN codes or passwords.

Apple are, as of this weekend, providing exactly this type of experience via the iPad. As content providers and app developers understand the new audience they have, and if Apple can manage to market the device to this new potential audience successfully, then a mini revolution will take place. Yes, I have had people continue to tell me since February that the iPad is simply a larger iPod Touch, and yes I have continued to read criticism about no Flash compatible browser, no camera and no third-party app multi-tasking. I still believe these people are all missing the point. The technical spec will not matter to the people the iPad is most suited for.

And now the first reviewers to get their hands on a real iPad are starting to say the same ... this is a new concept in computing, so-called 'computing for the rest of us'. It is revolutionary, not in terms of the tech spec, or even in the things it allows users to do, but rather in the way that people will think of a computer. It puts the Internet in your hands and throws away the paradigm of mouse directed computing that was spawned in the 1980s. It is the very embryonic stage of new computers that look very different and are literally much more engaging and individually immersive for the humans that use them. Ten years from now, we will be in much more intimate touch with our computers; this is only the start.