“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” -- John F. Kennedy
The personal computer era lasted from 1977 until 2010. Nowadays, we're in the Post-PC era, the tablet era. That, like the netbooks, shall also pass. What's next? More importantly, what do we want?
It's often been said that Steve Jobs gave us what we didn't know we needed until it was delivered. Then we had that aha! moment. Lo and behold: the iPad.
That was genius, but it was 33 years in the making with both hardware technology and the cultural momentum of the PC, windows and mice. Then the iPad stripped away all the non-essentials, the security and maintenance headaches, and focused (mostly) on what we all wanted to do most of the time.
The Post-tablet Era
This time around, in the tablet era, we won't have 33 years to decide what's next. Technology is changing too rapidly and social media has created a strong current of consciousness about what we need and want. That social current is what keeps Android and iOS moving along briskly while a good product like Windows Phones, languishes.
Given that technology is racing forward and various competitors are seeking to one-up each other, it won't be long before the tablet interface starts to morph.
Next generation tablet concept. Credit: Samsung
One thing the tablet interface does have going for it is the natural idea of see-point-touch. The tablet is popular because it fits in well with the way tool-using Homo Sapiens tends to work. But whether that see-point-touch metaphor remains instantiated in a physical device with a touch screen remains open to question.
Google Glass and Microsoft Kinect come to mind. These are not wide-spread technologies today, in comparison to 100 million iPads and many more than that smartphones sold. And Microsoft may not be around long enough to cash in on its Kinect technology, but the point is that these technologies lurk around the edges of our consciousness. Then one day, a refinement springs forth from a company that puts it all together in a commercially successful way, has good luck, good timing, good resources, and good marketing.
Another factor that's coming into play is the off-loading of technology for the sake of miniaturization. Here's the sequence: In the PC era, it was a stand-alone device. You had a display, a printer, and a backup drive. With the Internet and the march of technology into tablets, we can offload some of the processing to the clouds. For example, an iPad needs no printer (it is its own print/display) and it needs no backup drive (if you back up to iCloud). That allows the iPad to be a lot more compact.
The next phase will likely be something even smaller, miniature devices that display information in our field of view, hanging in the air. We'll see-point-touch, but the physical manifestation of current day tablets will be gone. Even more more work will be done by the cloud, supported by whatever comes after LTE.
Plus, companion robots are not far off. A 50 kg robot companion has plenty of room for powerful energy source, communications, processing and a local secure link to the owner. That kind of hybrid arrangement frees up the human to wear lighter, smaller devices.
How well we as customers define what we want and how we use our devices will play a role in the next phase as well. For example, with smartphones and Facebook, most people have completely abrogated their responsibilities to insist on privacy protections, leaving it to the government to muddle through.
The post-tablet era may be the last chance customers have to dictate how their devices will serve them.
I, Robot credit: 20th Century Fox
Is Apple Poised?
One of the things I often wonder about is whether Apple is the company that will take us down that path. Can a very large company, making oodles of money with iPads and iPhones, foresee and plan for the next phase of technology? History says no. History says that it will require a new company with a new vision to seize on the post-tablet era.
It would be a shame to see Apple become another Kodak, bound by it's own tradition and corporate blinders. We're already seeing Apple holding back in some technologies while Google and Samsung move aggresively forward, keen to compete. Is Apple rationalizing itself into IBM-think? Watching to see how the iPad evolves in the face of the me-too copycats will tell us a lot about whether Apple is on a path to the future or just riding the tablet wave for all it's worth.