What is the future of computing? What is the present of computing? Tech-minded folks like myself have been arguing that for years. Now we see a few people that have convoluted looks at what is indeed the future of computing. It’s definitely mobile. We all know that. But there are other questions to answer. Where does the PC go? Can PCs and mobile devices coexist? So what does our present and the future we are working toward look like? Here’s my take.
My biggest pet peeve in the arguments surrounding what the future looks like is that people that conflate different characteristics of mobile computing with the DEFINING characteristics. There are characteristics of mobile devices that define the category, and there are characteristics that describe the category. I’m not splitting hairs here. The fact that most mobile devices these days are Android and iOS, with a smattering of smaller players, does not define the category. The fact that most use ARM processors does not DEFINE the category. First, what does define the future?
The future of computing is devices. Yes, yes, even a PC is a device, but what I’m talking about is the appliance-like nature that we think of when we think of a device. This defining characteristic is all about reliability and simplicity. Simplicity of the UI/UX enables more people to have access to computing power than ever before. It gives a chance for folks that didn’t understand the convoluted UI’s of yesteryear to use technology to make their lives easier. The new OS’s also bring simplicity of configuration, which is as important as any feature that the device provides. Setting up a PC in the 90’s could take hours. Today, you can grab a phone or tablet and in 10 minutes be up and running. Most people will never touch the settings past the first-run experience.
Reliability comes from the fact that iOS and Android aren’t very old, and when they were initially written, the teams involved had a chance to rethink what an OS is and does. They also had a chance to rethink and restructure the interface, the app model, and the hardware to make the devices we use the most, the most reliable. We’re not yet that far removed from the days of reinstalling Windows once a year to combat the odd problems that seem to creep up. Ideally, you never have to reset a Surface, iPhone, or Android phone once in their useful lives.
There are two more defining characteristics of the future of computing that I think are important, but not strictly necessary for a computing device. One is coolness of operation. The device must have no fan and not be uncomfortably warm to the touch. This excludes desktop PCs and laptops, of course, but I see no reason that they can’t be included in the list of devices, as long as they continue to become more simple and easy to configure. Computers running Windows 10 and OS X are heading closer to being true devices every day, and the software is continuing to make it easier to use those systems.
Lastly, I think the future is touch, but a computer that does not include touch isn’t automatically not part of the future. A computer can be device-like without including touch, just as it can be device-like with fans involved to keep it cool.
Characteristics that describe the present of computing today are different that the defining characteristics, though. This is the only reason this blog post even exists. I see analysts defining the future of computing based on the present. The present is iOS and Android are hugely dominant. ARM processors power most of the phones, tablets, and even some PC-like devices. iOS and Android may be the future of computing, but they also may be close to their height, and ready to fall when a new computing paradigm comes, or a new competitor enters the mobile space with novel ideas about what an internet connected mobile computing device is and should do.
This post is rather wordy, and I know that. It may also be rambling and I apologize for that. So, long story short, the future of mobile devices is, err, devices. Appliance-like devices. Low configuration, simple user interfaces, reliable devices. It’s not defined by the platform leaders (iOS/Android), CPU architecture (ARM with a spattering of Intel), or necessarily the form-factor (laptop, desktop, tablet).
Folks that define the future by the present leaders and architectures are incredibly short sighted. 20 years ago, Apple was a dying company that many suggested should close shop. Now they are a juggernaut. iOS and Android are dominant, but no one knows what tomorrow brings. That is why I hate defining the future by the companies currently involved or the technology that they currently employ.