Where the HELL is my ROBOT BUTLER?

Forget big-spending globo biz: it's about the consumer... and he's desperate for a nap

Sleep Cycle iOS app screenshot

Sysadmin blog For decades the development of the computer has been driven by businesses. Businesses bought mainframes, PCs and servers. They bought in such quantity that the consumer was, for most technology companies, a mere afterthought. Today, consumer purchases of endpoints outstrip business purchases by a wide margin.

None of this is news to regular El Reg readers. Outside of servers, the return on investment for beefy chips is only there for edge cases today.

The future is going to move rapidly towards VDI. The technology to do this and do it well exists. Microsoft's irrational licensing is the only thing holding back the tide. When someone knocks some sense into them – and it's a when, not an if – traditional PCs are done. Over. Finished. Kaput.

There will be true workstations - think Mac Pro - and there will be anaemic fondletat. Nothing in between. This is because you'll be able to take your personal mobile and pull your work desktop down to it, connecting up an external keyboard/mouse/monitor to get the real day's work done.

What's more, the churn in the mobile market is almost over. The explosion of diversity has occurred. The collapse down to a small oligopoly occurred. The market is almost fully mature. If not this year, than in the next we will see the end of growth in Western markets. Growth in developing markets will be restricted to devices that have almost no margin.

Servers aren't doing much better. The Open Compute Project is the writing on the wall for server vendors. Their margins are evaporating, and quickly at that.

The margin is draining out of networking, too. Open Daylight will do for that market in short order, no matter how fiercely Cisco fights. Server SANs and host-based flash caching spell the end for the big storage players; expect an "open VSAN" movement to pop up and obliterate margins there within the next decade.

Back to the beginning

Computers were created to make our lives easier. At first, computers were to remove the tedium of various math problems. Eventually computers were used to remove tedium from things ranging from accounting to communications. Computers are more reliable than people at repetitive tasks and so continual upgrades were worth it for a while, until this value was fully realised.

Technology reflects our lives, and our lives reflect technology. The evolution of tools follows the needs that drive their invention while those same tools presage the changes in our society yet to come. Technology magazines are filled with talk of "the end of the PC" or "the end of $_technology_company". The truth of the change about it is so much larger than that.

Bleeding edge technology is the province of governments and large corporations. It costs a lot of money to buy the latest and greatest. Think about a 1950s computer big enough to fill a strip mall or a 500 terawatt laser system capable of sparking fusion in a ball of plasma some 17,000 times as hot as the surface of our Sun.

Computers and related technologies have long since left this category. They became mainstream in products for the well-to-do in the '80s and became commodities in the noughties. The timeline and evolution of computing is well known and doesn't need revisiting here, but the concept of this irresistible progress is very important.

Simply getting the cost of machines that could carry a significant fraction of mankind's total knowledge down to a price that working class families could afford has had a dramatic effect on our society. Making that knowledge available from devices not only in our homes, but ultimately carried on our persons every day, has changed the world.

Moore's law and the internet have been the twin muses of the past 50 years, increasing the spread of information, enabling new heights of productivity and even changing how we design our cities and rule our nations.

The value of time

There is a new generation coming to power: one that's fed up with words like "productivity" and "human capital". This generation is deeply unhappy with the hand they've been dealt and the world they've inherited.

These "kids" – and Millennials are not exactly kids any more – care about things like "work/life balance". They don't view computers or the internet as novel. They look to technology to enhance quality of life, not as yet another means to be subservient to the workplace.

You don't do that chained to desk. "Reinventing" the desktop, notebook, smartphone or tablet is a complete waste of a time and a sign that the company in question has completely run out of ideas. If you want the "next big thing", don't look to PCs: look to the robots.

From cars to vacuum cleaners to more intelligent washing machines, connected gadgets will soon be the norm. If there is a defining characteristic of this new generation, it is that they seek to regain their humanity. They use technology to automate the parts of their lives that can be automated so they have more time to explore that humanity.

The technology company that dominates the next decade won't be the company that masters voice input so that you can have yet another means of doing the same tired things with the same tired computers. It will be the company that perfects the driverless car, builds the robot butler or commoditises an all-day telepresence robot.

The next generation Xeon isn't going to change my life, but something that automates away some tedious bit so that I can sleep more will. Sleep as a Service: that's worth money to me. ®

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