In the spirit of “I never make predictions and I never will” here goes.
I feel like I’ve seen it all before – the repetitive cycles as the human condition plays itself out through history and technology. Boom-bust, expansion-contraction, freedom-control – Cambrian like periods of expansion and diversity followed by Darwinian like selection and contraction to new norms. It seems as if the last 5 years have been an amazing Cambrian technology expansion cycle of new technologies such as Web 2.0, cloud, mobile and social and that we are now entering a period of selection and consolidation towards new norms.
Thomas J. Watson Sr., then-president of IBM allegedly said in 1943 that
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” – he may have been wrong – there may be a market for even less.
The IT paradigm is shifting to Cloud computing but like mainframes in 1943 only a few organisations have the ability and resources to build these new “computers” - gravitational forces are creating a small number of planet like surface to air super-clouds each with their own ecosystem. Life is good within the chosen ecosystem but inter-planetary communication and travel could be a problem.
The major players are attempting to build complete stacks from surface to air to host their ecosystems – from hardware through a vertical stack to cloud based resources. At least three super-stacks are forming – initially with unique features – it will be interesting if they maintain these features or all become similar.
Google have a powerful cloud base and are are building a mobileground base with mobile technologies – they already have a successful, thriving smartphone ecosystem – we all wait to see if they can repeat this with tablets and laptops (ChromeOS). Google’s ecosystem is relatively loosely coupled and diverse but with an emphasis on pure cloud.
Apple have a tightly integrated stack from ground based iPods, iPhones and iPads through to the iTunes app market. Apple’s ecosystem is relatively controlled and tightly coupled with an emphasis on “ground based” apps. However, Apple have been building large data centres – will their ecosystem offer any pure cloud resources in 2011?
Microsoft have all the pieces yet are struggling to put them together without sacrificing their cash cows – Microsoft’s huge installed base has slowed it down – will it help it float or sink in the new paradigm? Microsoft are having trouble building their stack and haven’t yet developed a viable ecosystem that I can see. Can Microsoft recreate the Windows ecosystem in their stack – the departure of Ray Ozzie in October 2010 suggests they may not be able to and that this could be a long term extinction event for Microsoft – relegating it to a has been legacy supplier – Microsoft Windows and Office forever? ..
Cross stack developments (e.g. using HTML 5.0) will help build bridges and actually help reinforce the stacks but if these super stacks get built there will of course be forces building outside their control that will eventually bring them down or just render them obsolete – this is human nature played out through technology. The interesting “off-stack” ecosystem is of course open source, Peer to Peer and the creative commons. My longer term prediction is that future zeitgeist will shift off-stack back to personal and peer to peer through a natural cycle helped along by some stack based event and amazing technology development.
Beyond the WIMP
The seeds were sown in 2008 when Bill Gates left Microsoft and harvested in October 2010 when Ray Ozzie also left Microsoft and bloged “Dawn of a New Day” where he imagined a Post PC World.
Over a 25 year period the PC and the WIMP interface could be said to have realised Bill Gates’s dream of “a computer on every desk and in every home” but now we are talking about a computer with every person and the technology to do this is different to that used to put a computer on your desk. Microsoft could see the changes coming (they have had pocket PCs and Tablets for a decade) and made new mobile devices within the existing mainstream PC WIMP paradigm. Apple design genius helped show what was possible – the iPod, iPhone and iPad were not radical functional departures from what already existed – the innovation was in connecting together new technologies with superb human centric design. Again Microsoft are under pressure to adapt to the new era – they have the technology but can they implement when the weight of installed base weighs them down rather than advantages them.
The new wave of computing is very personal and built from a combination of ultra mobile, highly connected, real-time, any-time, any-where, green, social, knowledgeable, sensory, cloud, augmented reality, easy to use and pervasive. It certainly gives Gates’ Information at your fingertips” a new spin.
This new era starts with smartphones, tablets, social, real-time and rich sensory interfaces such as multi-touch and context awareness through vision, sound, location, orientation and other sensors. New era devices will become cheaper, smaller, more functional and pervasive – they will augment our reality and become the norm through the advantages they give to the user.
As we move beyond the WIMP we should expect new era devices to become ever more integrated with our context and our senses. Some of the things we should expect in the next decade are voice and gesture interfaces; context interfaces that anticipate and wearable computers and interfaces such as Data Glasses and Data Lenses.
Naturally there will be developments outside this new wave of technology. Change could arise from Ambient/ Internet of Things/ Ubiquitous computing developments so that rather than carry computing around with us our environment and objects within it provide the computing and access – a sort of retro shift (as often happens). Change could arise from the logical progression of personalisation so that eventually implantable computers and interfaces supercede those we wear or carry.
Equality of access has in the past been adjusted by public resources such as libraries and schools but how can public resources adjust for the new wave of pervasive personal technology. The web has revolutionised and democratised information and just when equality of access gets within reach new technologies may snatch it away again – those with the new “information at your fingertips” to augment their realities have a distinct advantage compared to those without the resources.. How can we help equality in the new era? Will there be a technology adjustment to close the equality gap again?
As our technology gets increasingly personal, social and pervasive then issues of privacy will increase – we’ve seen plenty of privacy issues in 2010 starting with Facebook’s Zuckerberg Saying “The Age of Privacy is Over” and ending with Wikileaks and the activities surrounding it. The issues of state-state/state; state-citizen and citizen-citizen privacy-transparency will play out in the new communications space. What responses will there be to these privacy issues? Will society become more secretive and transparent? Will cultures of multiple identities, walled environments and off-web P2P type activities develop? Will these issues simply play out in the new medium in the same way they have done in the past?
William Gibson’s quote “The Future is Already Here – It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed” is a powerful and practical idea for working out what is going to happen in the short term – extrapolate from current edge and current trends. These days new technology is announced & piloted very early – there are few surprises in the short term in terms of technology developments. The problem with short term predictions is that we often exaggerate the scale and impacts of predicted developments.
Bill Gates summed it up when he said “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”. Like compound interest an exponential function is just a fixed percentage of growth that compounds – change is occurring around us all the time and like a slow boiling frog we only jump when we become aware of it. Another factor in ICT change in particular is the Network effect (the value and effectiveness of a communication technology increases with the number of users) – this acts a sort of natural selection – operating both negative and positive feedback on exponential growth.
The problem with long term developments are that they are subject to exponential and combinatorial factors – chaotic things that we are not good at understanding at the best of times. To compound things change cycles themselves are becoming faster.
In the short term nothing much appears to happen while longer term changes appear are often beyond our understanding.