iPhones, tablets... Pah: By 2020, we'll froth over hot new SOFTWEAR
Cyborg me up - I'm ready and waiting for it, says El Reg's Trevor
Sysadmin blog Within some admittedly fuzzy error bars, computing adoption seems to work in decade-long phases over the course of about 50 years. By my reckoning, those decades roughly work out to precursor technologies, niche adoption, commercialisation, mass market and eventual displacement. Within my lifetime, I have seen the rise of the PC, of notebooks, and of personal mobile devices; I know what I want the next round to be.
The 1960s were spent developing precursor technologies for what would eventually become the PC. The 1970s saw the first of what we would recognise today as "personal computers" even though at the time they were expensive, finicky and firmly in the realm of the hobbyist, but eventually appeared on office desks in the business world.
By the early 1980s, all the pieces of what we would consider to be the modern PC – including networking – were in place; the price had come down enough that they were invading small businesses and even homes. The 1990s saw PCs become ubiquitous; not to own one was to be a refusnik, or flirting with outright poverty. By the Naughties, PCs began to cede territory to notebooks.
In the 1970s, the precursor tech for notebooks and the very first prototypes appeared. Niche "portable" boxes reared their heads in the 1980s. The necessary tech to bring notebooks out of the "niche" category they occupied – such as the first reduced-power processors aimed at mobile – came along in the early 1990s.
By the Naughties we started to see the first of what I would consider to be modern notebooks; reasonably sleek and relatively portable with two to four hours of battery life. During this decade they achieved a status of acceptance and commonality occupied by PCs during the 1990s; indeed, they threaten to displace notebooks for most people.
Similarly, precursor tech of what would eventually be termed simply "mobile devices" appeared commercially in the 1980s and the first prototypes of true handheld computing arrived in the 1990s. These were quickly followed by the niche PDAs that marked my childhood tinkering. The Naughties – and Research In Motion – put smartphones into the hands of road warriors everywhere. Today, mobiles are beginning to displace the "must have" notebooks that preceded them.
What does this tell us about the future? Each of these major iterations of technology – each wave seemingly separated by a decade – solved a problem that I can remember articulating often and loudly in the decade before true mass adoption occurred. PCs solved the "I want access to a computer whenever I need it" problem. Simple, but important.
Notebooks solved the newly defined requirement to take your computing with you wherever you went: "I need to do from school/someone else's office what I can do at my desk." Personal mobile devices solved a convergence problem: "Do I really need a PDA, a mobile phone, and a notebook?"
The next wave, I believe, will be a return to truly personal computing; likely in the form of wearable computing. When I sit down to ask myself "what are the challenges facing me today; what would I pay money for" the answers are: simplicity, stability and privacy.
What I want is simple: I want a "personal computing space". Likely a nice wearable computer replete with Google Glass-style headset. I think Google's creepy (and dangerous) "augmented reality" approach to wearable computing is a nonstarter, but the basic tech it is putting on the table is a tasty starter. Ultimately, I hope the winner in this space will be one that has robust security and privacy.
My wearable computer should be one that is aware of the resources available to it and adjusts accordingly - from being able to wirelessly use the local projector or computer monitor to knowing what is in my personal media library or which corporate documents I have access to. I want a computer that nobody can shoulder-surf, which works only for me, knows my passwords, accounts, services, habits, moods, likes, dislikes and needs. I want a computer that doesn't require me to migrate a profile and personal settings, because it is my profile and personal settings - an interface that I set up once and nobody can change or deprecate on me.
The 1990s saw precursor tech and the first prototypes. The noughties saw the first niche units and hobbyist devices. If the pattern holds, this decade will see wearable computing commercialised for true mass market consumption in the 2020s. I can't wait. ®
I'm a Softwear Engineer...
...or so it says on my marriage certificate. Perhaps that was a prediction, rather than poor spelling on the registrar's part.
Re: How many shirts do you own?
You are only making my point for me.
I'm not going to wear an armband over a suit or wear a scarf or hat indoors. I don't look good in earrings and I dead the thought of all those people who now look at their handhelds all the time wearing dark glasses instead.
My computing requirements are completely independent of clothing requirements.
Re: Already here
I'd imagine that this will all start with smartphones getting more and more complex, and doing more jobs. I'd say a smartphone with docking stations can probably already replace 50% of PCs, as all they do is email and web surfing on a bigger screen.
At the moment the tech is still benefiting from higher speed and bigger batteries, so phones aren't getting smaller, they're getting more capable. I foresee that continuing for a while longer. But it can't be long until there's enough computer power and memory in a mid-range smartphone to replace all but the most hard-worked of PCs. As you're carrying it anyway, you may as well give up on computers and just dock the phone with whatever I/O devices you've got kicking around.
At that point there'll be pressure to make smaller phones again. But the physical size of the device can't get much smaller, due to ergonomics and screen size. At which point it may make sense to split the functions of the device up. A small pocketable thing that's your computer/NFC wallet/phone/ID card(?), and then maybe a roll-up touch screen. Or roll-up screen with input by voice - I don't believe in voice control due to the noise it causes - although I suppose you could have a noise cancelling mic to isolate and pick up the owner's commands, and then another noise cancelling chip to broadcast a sound wave to cancel their voice from the environment...
Can glasses as a screen work? How big is the image projected onto them, or are you looking at a tiny screen, massively magnified? How do you read the thing without your reading glasses, given you're wearing the Google Gasses?
People wear watches, so that's a natural item to use. You could also have rings, so you could have handwriting as an input method. Even have your phone record your handwriting from accelerometers in the ring, so you take notes in a meeting on real paper, and have the OCR version on your computer. Although with a decent small mic, it could be possible to use voice recognition - and record/auto-transcribe every meeting. Rings could also do gesture controls.
The factor I see causing the most problems is batteries. Are they going to improve fast enough. And get small enough fast enough? I've read a few articles suggesting they're only getting about 7% more power density per year. Assuming we stop using more power with each new device today, that still leaves the mobile phone battery in ten years being less than half the size.