Here’s the first guest post, brought to you by Ty. Be sure to check out his blog, especially if technology is of any interest to you.
The Future of Information Technology and Me (and You)
I don’t honestly remember the first computer our family owned. I can barely remember the second. All I do remember of the second computer is being awed by the sheer StarTrek-esque awesomeness of it. It was a shiny, glowing, tech-noisy machine that consumed my imagination. But I was never one of those kids that had to tear it down, dig around its innards and figure out how it worked—mostly because I knew if I went anywhere near it with a screwdriver in hand, I would find myself chained to the kitchen sink doing dishes until I was 30.
While my friends were geeking-out over processors, HDDs, graphics cards (yes, cards), and the evolution of the CD, I sat back and just enjoyed the show. I was a power-consumer. I just enjoyed using the high-tech products—I was less interested in the details. That is still me today—although, I have boned-up on my product technical understanding and have a better handle on the geekier side of information technologies today. I can hold my own in a geek contest, but my first love (so far as tech is concerned) is the consumer user experience of technology.
My first laptop didn’t have specs worthy of discussion when I bought it, but holding that shiny plastic and metal Dell Inspiron 1505 was a revelation. It was my connection to a whole world of information. It had built-in Wi-Fi (an upgrade back then) so my wires were cut, but not my access to anything I wanted. But time and experience revealed that it was a little big for all that I wanted. The laptop gave me access to seemingly endless supplies of digital music and video, but it sure was an inconvenient media player on a jog (I jest—like I ever went jogging.) There was no true media portability with the laptop—so, I needed another option.
The iPod was well into its third iteration by the time I was in the market for an MP3 player. I toyed with the idea of an iPod for a while—I even downloaded iTunes and began managing my media library through that. However, after a few months with iTunes, the PC-unfriendly qualities of the program began to impede the quality of my laptop’s functionality, so I ditched iTunes and went back to Windows Media Center. I ended up settling for an iRiver PMC-120—20 GBs of HDD storage with a 3.5 inch LCD screen. It felt like a portable gaming system more than an MP3 player. It had a kickstand and an external speaker. It was, at its time, the Cadillac of portable media players. It seemed the ultimate in portable media. But, one thing is certain in the world of technology, and that is change.
6-months in to my love-affair with my iRiver device, Microsoft introduced its Zune media player. I would have been in line for the device day-one, but I was too poor at the time, so I remained wedded to my PMC-120—but it was that day that our relationship soured. The Zune30 was half as thick as my iRiver device, had 30 GBs more storage, built-in Wi-Fi, a dedicated music marketplace, and file-sharing capabilities. It was slim and sexy and evoked an iPod-like awe. (Side note: although the device never really took off in the consumer market, it was the most tech-cool device when it was released. By the time the Zune brand matured enough to compete, iPod had already grown to dominate over 80% of the market share for dedicated MP3 players. Too late for Zune.) The reason I remember this moment so well comes from the fact that this marked a moment of revelation for me: I felt something was happening. Another technological revolution was on the horizon. 30 GBs in the palm of your hand?! With Wi-Fi, no less! Cell phones were beginning to become more capable (although even the ‘smartest’ among them is the equivalent of a ‘dumb-phone’ today). I wasn’t the only one feeling the change, either. My dad prophesied a day when computers would fit in our hands and there would no longer be a need for a PC.
Well, we’re not all the way there, yet—but we are really close.
Since that day I have been through two Zunes, four ever increasingly smart smartphones, a laptop and a netbook. Today I own a ZuneHD and a WindowsPhone7. Both devices are so capable I rarely ever use the netbook at home. I can access all the information and media I need or want on my phone. I can even do some basic word processing and I have a dedicated camera/video recorder to boot—and that is just my phone. There are phones that can do much more out in the market. Every day I read a product announcement for faster, slimmer, more powerful, more capable, more fun, more… everything phones. Meanwhile laptops and desktops increase their on-board storage, processing speeds, and graphics accelerators.
My journey from early exposure to our family desktop to my WindowsPhone7 is a drama of change and optimization. For years technological manufacturers just seemed to be in a visionless landscape of R&D—pushing the limits of the current tech just because they could; but without a reigning vision to guide the development, the changes were just a technological pissing-match.
Today, we see the emergence of a guiding vision. This vision is materializing in consumer markets at a blinding pace. But where is this vision taking us? Where is it driving the changes to?
Technology today is quickly converging on the intersection between tactile and ‘cloud.’ Consumers like their futuristic tech—evidenced by the up-surge in consumer spending on smartphones and tablets. People like touch-screens and voice controls because these features allow them to get wrapped up in the technology and experience it as an extension of themselves rather than needing to take a class to figure out how to use a computer. We are becoming increasingly tactile in our technological experience, and that only deepens the more we use it. My smartphone is a multi-touch touch screen and I hate to use keyboards now. I love the intuitive control I have over my phone versus a mouse-and-keyboard. (Oh, and every day I fall deeper and deeper in love with voice control. It makes you feel a little self-conscious at first, but then I asked myself “Why?” Humans communicate with speech—why not extend that communication to our devices?)
And while more and more wires get cut, more and more of what we access on these tactile devices is cloud-based. More of our information is on the internet, stored in servers in unknown locations. Dedicated on-board storage is less important than high-speed internet connections. 3G, 4G, Wireless N, and a variety of up-and-coming wireless connections give us quick-access to want we want—now! Mobile access is the king in tech, now. I want my information to be where I am, not at home, stuck on a desktop. If the information, documents, music, video, (etc.) isn’t available—literally—in the palm of my hand, then it is antiquated and of little use to me.
That is the future of technology, folks. Consumer driven, cloud-based, fast-and-anywhere-access devices that cater to you, rather than make you bend to them. There will still be a place for desktops; they will become something akin to home-servers—personal information storage and distribution hubs. But you will access and manipulate information on smartphones, tablets, or some other device yet to be revealed.
So, the power consumer in me is more excited than ever to see science-fiction style technology becoming more and more accessible. I am excited to control devices with my voice, a flick of my finger, or a wave of my hand. I am excited to have seemingly infinite access to information in the palm of my hand. Technology will only continue to head in this direction. Are you in favor? How will this change the way you do utilize technology every day? Are you an early-adopter, already ahead of the crowd?