Friday, April 2, 2010

Counter-point: You won’t really own 20 computers in 5 years – you may only need one!

Jay McBain, Director Small and Medium Business, Lenovo
March 17, 2010
Being a part-time futurist, I attempt to predict events and apply probabilities to certain things happening. The one thing I didn’t predict was my blog about owning 20 computers in 5 years would create the frenzy it did. The comments received were literally all over the map, both ideological as well as geographic.
Many of the devices I talked about bordered on nonsensical. Who would ever consider a Smart-Jacket anyway? Then yesterday, The VAR Guy breaks a story about a wearable computing legend working secretly on prototypes for a major manufacturer. Perhaps the 5 year window I called out isn’t that far-fetched.
The contrarian view to pervasive computing has held that we will look to one (or very few) devices to deliver the world of content to us, regardless of time or place. This device would be very powerful, offer bolted-down security, and incorporate a blistering array of consumer electronics functionality. Think of every category at your nearest Retailer built into a device no larger than your wallet.
This device would integrate wirelessly with its surroundings. For example, it would communicate with your car and use its speakers as an extension to its own functionality. Same goes for your flat panel or even your desktop computer.
Here are some reasons this view of the future makes sense:
1. No need for integration or management of dozens of devices per person. Business or personal, less devices means less headaches.
2. Not reliant on the promise of the cloud. Local storage and applications have a strong legacy over the past 30 years and will the cloud still have a perception issue around security and performance in the future limiting its adoption?
3. No need for ubiquitous connectivity. The coming wave of 3G and WiMax offerings may not convince people that another $40 per month is worthwhile – especially in the new economic reality. Unless Telco companies will bundle with your home networking at the same price, people may look to fewer, smarter devices that do not rely on a 24/7 internet connection.
4. Easier to lock down security policy on one device. Users may not be comfortable with the personality “footprints” left on a multitude of devices. Think about the caches and cookies left over from your computing experience. Also, the cost and complexity of incorporating biometrics, encryption and other security features into dozens of devices could be daunting.
5. Extension to new usage scenarios. For example, a single device with localized processing and security would be ideal as a payment device at a store.
6. Mass-market appeal and economics. The competition to be this “one” device by manufacturers and component makers would drive down cost significantly, benefiting the consumer.
7. Industry standard interfaces. Without a plethora of technology representing different sizes, shapes and usage, there would be a lower education and training requirement. This could make technology less imposing on some and more accessible to others.
8. Focus on elegant design. The innovation around a single device would drive new levels of design excellence and engineering around quality and ruggedness. For example, being waterproof would be a great feature if this is your only connection to the online world.
A strong argument can be made for or against a future with Pervasive Computing. Some people will argue the middle – the devices that make sense to become smarter and internet aware will happen naturally over time. This is perhaps a more realistic argument and that having a smart toaster isn’t worth the extra dollars, energy and growing landfills full of obsolete ones.
What do you think? Will we have 20 or more computers connected all the time and providing seamless integration into our everyday lives, or will we stick to our current knitting, a Smartphone and a Notebook?