I am amazed how mobile computing has taken the world by storm. It really is like a revolution. Traditional ways of computer are being disrupted, some might suggest out of existence. We increasingly read headlines (here, another) about the death or end of the desktop computer. Actually it’s more, the death of the MP3 player, digital camera, calculator, voice recorder, handheld GPS, camcorder, to list a few other casualties. I think this is great – fewer specific use devices to buy and haul around with you is a good thing. Costs to own a diverse set of devices disappears into the single purpose device. However, can the mobile device really meet all of our needs in the most effective way? Is there still a place for “traditional” devices such as the desktop?
My own experience is that I might use my home desktop computer an hour or two a week at most and that’s mainly for banking, some email and Facebook, maybe a bit of Twitter, and at certain times to research companies, products, and vacation options. My work laptop I use throughout the week when I’m in my office, mainly for email, calendaring, research, writing / planning, and designing/creating presentations. I also use my laptop at home some evenings and most weekends to catch up on work, and of course, to write for this blog. However, my mobile technology is used, statistically, far more. This is relatively new for me. Finally the smartphone (I use an iPhone 5) with an LTE data connection is powerful enough to be my go to device for most consumption and communication.
I almost exclusively take my tablet (I use an iPad 4 with LTE) to meetings to take notes (with Evernote), do calendaring and email, and to look up stuff and share it. My tablet is also my go to device at conference sessions or other talks / training where I mainly use a Twitter client (Twitter or HootSuite) and a note taking tool (usually Evernote). I also prefer my tablet for reading web content and ebooks (Kindle) but when heading to a Starbucks to chill with a book and a coffee, I find that my smartphone is now all I need.
In a Starbucks, I fire up Tunein.com and listen to some obscure online “radio station” from somewhere in the world, bring up Kindle and lose myself in the book and the music. While reading, I often share thoughts and quotes using the Twitter app on the device – as others respond, I might engage with them about the content just shared. To take a break, I may pop into Facebook, email, Flipboard, Zite, or my calendar. The book content might trigger something I want to remember so I set a reminder in the device so I don’t forget it. When I’m commuting home from work, I listen to audio books via the Audible.com app. If I want to remember something that I heard, I can one touch pause the book, one touch press to get Siri to wake up, then I ask “her” to remind me about whatever it is I just heard in the book. Then back to the book. In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not holding the phone while driving – it sits conveniently where I can one button/touch access it. Note, I also use the smartphone as my GPS to accurately find my way around Vancouver from school to school – it works great. Five years ago I would’ve been stuck writing down directions and / or using a paper based map.
Only a few years ago, my laptop was the go to device for all of my work, consumption, and communication. Note, I’ve not used a desktop computer at work for over a dozen years. However, I can’t see, yet, not having three devices to cover off all my needs as an information worker. Sure I can edit pictures and videos on my mobile devices, I can blog and write, I can even create presentations using Keynote. But… it is super inefficient and limiting. I leverage the multi-windowed nature of my laptop to be working with spreadsheets, documents, presentations, email, calendar, Twitter, web content, pictures, videos, blog writer, etc. at the same time. My productivity would be severely reduced if I did not have my laptop. Also, I leverage the large screen that is on my desk at work and home for “heavy” compare and contrast activities. More screen real estate is essential to efficient multitasking and multi-tool use. However, let’s not limit our thinking to the present or near future. Let’s imagine how mobile devices could replace all need for laptops or desktops.
The three main challenges with mobile devices are computing power, input, and display. Computing power needs are rapidly being taken care of – this problem will certainly disappear. Perhaps with the interface improvements described here, these could take on CAD, animation design, programming, and other heavy duty work, especially when matched to Cloud Computing. The other two are interesting. For input, I am finding Siri to be quite capable. It has a ways to go though – it can’t recognize words well enough for me to interact effectively through voice. The other challenge with voice is being able to sequence my thoughts and ideas, and edit them, verbally. I think verbal interactions are great for asking about stuff, giving direction, and raw recording of notes, documents, and communications. However, through my fingers, I manipulate and refine these into more appropriate formats and also ensure coherence. I can imagine mobile interfaces to emerge that are virtual holographic keyboards and provide a virtual tactile “feel” so my fingers can “touch” the projected keys. The next stage might be a mind meld of sorts where I can immerse my mind in the activity and content and manipulate it, edit it, add other content, etc. with my thoughts. The point is, I shouldn’t have to add physical attachments like keyboards to my handheld mobile devices – that option makes no sense to me. The third challenge of display will be overcome with 3D holographic projections that immerge from the device and be sized to whatever I need. I will be able to manipulate the image with my hands to zoom, turn, dive deep, back out, move content around, etc. Perhaps the combination of this with a mind meld with the device will be all I need. You don’t think this is possible? Read history, go back a thousand years, then plot the technology change over time and consider what people thought to be impossible even 20 years ago that we take for granted today. We are experiencing a time warp – change is exponential, perhaps faster. Impossible is a dangerous word to use in our world today – it causes us to underestimate the future.
How might you see mobile technology evolving? How has it changed your life thus far? Get ready for the future, it’s coming soon to a mobile device near you!