New technologies constantly collide and drift apart again, some sticking together for longer than others. We crave golden solutions which cram everything into one swiss army knife of goodness and often come close to finding it, before realising it can’t quite do everything.
Cameras, MP3 players, video recorders, e-readers, dictaphones. We’re mostly happy for these to be on our smartphones now. If we have to read or write a large document, or do some serious number crunching, we tend to return to larger screens and bigger devices. But for how long?
Technologies marry up and divorce, driven both by consumer behaviour and commercial forces. Although sometimes they won’t technically work well together or another part of the chain lets it down, these nuptials form a natural cycle which everyone has come to accept. It’s business.
Lucky western world consumers now have one primary small tool, a smartphone, and one primary large tool, a desktop or laptop device. We use these to carry out our day-to-day tasks. We might also have one in the middle, a tablet, but predominantly these are used more casually.
Precisely how our use of these devices will now combine, blend and blur, is hugely important and the associated ideas and software is worth a lot of money. So the recent news that Ubuntu’s operating system had been adapted to run on smartphones was significant.
The Linux-based software will let users run desktop applications on their handsets (initially Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus phone), allowing them to double for PCs when connected to monitor screens.
Many question whether people are really seeking the full power of a desktop or laptop computer on their smartphone, whether we actively want to keep them separate for now; but Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth claimed it will signal a wider shift.
“It’s quite incredible that we’re at this point when the power of the phone is crossing over that with baseline processing power of basic laptops,” Shuttleworth told the BBC.
“I’m very confident if we look ahead over the next three to five years that’s a transition that Apple is going to have to make… and if it’s not Windows 9 it will be Windows 10 that will see Microsoft bring its phone and laptop together into one device. It’s really cracking to do that ahead of everyone else.”
Achieving this elegantly without alienating consumers will be some challenge, unless something else comes along in the meantime to lighten the load.
Towards the end of last year there was excited chatter about the death of the smartphone thanks to Google Goggles, or Glass and probably a host of similar products. While at the CES Technology show in Las Vegas this week there appears to have been considerable hype around what’s being dubbed ‘wearable tech’. Examples of these include glass-based products which, we are promised, will largely circumvent the need for a device by zapping augmented reality applications onto lenses near the eye.
It could be that this will herald the next major splintering of technology: a time when all our needs will be catered for by a single device agile enough to fulfill small screen and large screen needs – whether that’s via a Ubuntu operating system or not. Glass and augmented reality could be the answer to needs which at least the smartphone currently satisfies. And we won’t even need to pick it up because it’ll already be sitting on our faces.
What’s not to like? Mere speculation, of course. But everybody loves wildly unsubstantiated assertions at this time of year.