In the webinar I did the day before yesterday, one of the questions I was asked was what I thought the future of mobile would be. My first response was that mobile wasn’t going away, and that we’d see more converged devices. I also opined that five years ago I couldn’t have predicted where we are now, and consequently it might be hard to think that far forward. There was also a question of whether I thought the laptop was dead, and I kind of did.
Since then, however, I had a few moments in the middle of the night when I should’ve been sleeping, and I pondered this a bit more. Let me answer in greater depth, thinking through hardware, software, and context.
One of the questions was wearables. I frankly don’t know whether we’ll want them just on our sleeve (though it might be a nice fashion accessory), or still pulled from a pocket. I think we’ll have the opportunity to have either. What will really be important, however, is having that visual display whether tangible in the world, or projected via a headsup display. We’ll also have audio, both to listen to, and to communicate with. We’ll still likely couple that with gesture, whether on a screen or detected via gestures. The important thing is that we’ll be interacting with our normal tools for acting on the world. I think we may still need keyboards from time to time, as text is still a relatively rich communication channel with low bandwidth requirements. Whether we can have virtual keyboards is still an open question, I think.
I do think the devices will continue to have richer sensors: in addition to accelerometers, compasses, GPS, microphones and cameras they’ll also have barometers, thermometers, and more. They’ll be able to tap into these to do ever more clever context-sensing and reacting. And I think they’ll be in a variety of form factors, some choosing pocketable, some choosing to tradeoff mobility for screen real estate. Some will choose to have one multipurpose, perhaps, others likely will have several. They’ll synch seamlessly, so that it doesn’t matter what device we have when we’re looking for answers. And there will still be a role for the very large screen, with lots of real estate, when we’re tapping into our powerful pattern matching capabilities.
I think that it’s strongly possible that more of the computational capability will be served from the cloud, instead of locally, though I think the local capabilities will continue to increase as well. I fully hope that they will be able to do intelligent and context-sensitive things. My ideal is sort of a continual mentor, developing me over time and scaffolding behavior. This is probably wildly optimistic, though I’ve been asking for it for near to a decade, and we’re beginning to see elements thereof.
The interfaces may well simplify. With rich communication possibilities, distributed across gesture and voice, the necessary screen representations may be minimized. Still, as was recently pointed out to me, the current space is relatively mature and only a revolutionary technology shift would have a change. Can we anticipate that? Likely, but not likely to hit the market within that 3-5 year timeframe. And I’m willing to be wrong on that.
Regardless of technology, I can safely predict that most people will have some portable digital companion with them that they use to make themselves smarter in the moment, much as we do now. But I’m hoping that we’ll also be able to be using it to make us smarter over time, maybe even wiser. That, to me, is the real vision of the future.