We appear to be standing on the precipice of a paradigm shift in the way we interact with technology. The signs are all around us – look at Microsoft’s Surface Table which targets collaborative design work, product presentation and merchandising applications. Surface, along with the soon-to-be released iPad and the promised release of Microsoft’s Courier, HP's Slate later this year, and any number of other wanna-be's, the interface between human and device is becoming more personal and organic. Gone are the mouse and keyboard; if you have a finger or two you can manipulate information using just those interface devices God gave you. Add to this the changes some game developers and console manufacturers are making towards a total emersive gaming experience, again facilitated by removing those clumsy interface devices in exchange for the human body (see Microsoft’s exciting Project Natal), and we find ourselves moving closer to information and technology Nirvana. But we have more work to do.
I found Apple’s Keynote presentation of their iPad interesting if only because Steve Jobs touched on the idea of Convergence. This is by no means a new idea, and Jobs has a vested interest in protecting his market share by not introducing a device that will cannibalize existing sales enjoyed by Apple’s flagship iPods and laptops, so I guess I should not be too disappointed that the iPad misses the mark on the Convergence front. However, it’s a step in the right direction.
I admit it, I’m a geek. I love toys and I have plenty of them. I have a smart phone that can browse the Internet as well as sync up with my business email and calendar, two desktops (one of which is connected via HDMI to my 60” flat screen tv and for which I use a wireless keyboard and mouse to control), two wireless laptops, a wireless printer, an iPad Touch, a Kindle, an Xbox, Wii and PS3 (and a Partridge in a Pear Tree). I even have a Hitachi Tablet PC (big disappointment) sitting in my closet somewhere. Each of these devices does one or two things very well, but none of them does everything well. Yes, I have several mobile devices but the Achilles heel of all these devices is they are lacking the functionality, capacity, and power of my desktops and my desktops are hardly mobile.
Watching the iPad Keynote video got me day-dreaming about what I would do if I had Jobs’ or Gates’ money and no Board to answer to. Here’s my wish list for a device that would gather together all the things my other various devices do today. I want a single device that will allow me to make and accept cell calls, interface with my company’s email and calendar as well as my personal POP3 and Webmail email accounts, surf the Internet, create and store favorites, download applications and watch streaming video, post to Blogs, purchase, download, store and read ebooks without eye strain, purchase, download, store and play music and video files in any format, video conferencing, shoot, store, edit and publish still and video photography, create and share written documents, spreadsheets, presentations, small databases, and technical diagrams, and give me the ability to do all of this from anywhere without restriction. Such a device would have to have the following properties:
1. Touch screen interface with soft keyboard
2. 8 ½” x 11” x ½” non-glare, fingerprint proof color screen able to display HD video weighing less than 2lbs
3. Data storage in excess of 500G.
4. 10-15 hr battery life.
5. Onboard still and video camera with microphone. Camera can be pointed towards the user or away from the user for either video conferencing or taking photos and videos
6. Fastest available cell radio, unlocked of course
7. WiFi and Bluetooth support
8. Flash support (at least until the rest of the world wakes up to the problems with Flash and adopts HTML5)
9. Non-proprietary O/S with support for latest versions of Windows and Mac O/S
10. eBook reader with support for ePub and other common formats and ability to connect to both Amazon’s and Apple’s ebook stores
11. Support for VoIP services such as Skype and Vonage
12. Open source video player
13. Configurable firewall, virus scanning, malware protection
14. Support for Citrix ICA client or VDI client to allow me to log into my company’s remote computing infrastructure
15. Ethernet port, printer port, HDMI port, RGA port, USB ports
16. Onboard CD/DVD read/writer with burner software
17. 4Gb+ RAM, fast multi-core chips
Ok so what’s holding us back? All the features listed above are standard in any computing device that you own today from your smart phone to your desktop and everything in between. The problem lies in two areas; form factor or stuffing all that technology and feature sets into a portable slate the dimensions of a spiral-bound college rule notebook, and protecting existing market share. The first reason is a nit which in my perfect world can be addressed without much effort. High storage needs for data-at-rest can be accommodated by using any number of online data storage/synching services such as Mozy or Sugarsync while a small onboard 64G drive would suffice to store apps, cache temp files and handle data-in-transit needs. Some attention would have to be paid to requiring the Cellular carriers to support a common voice and data standard, further miniaturizing DVD burners would take some work as would extending battery life and finding an efficient heat sink, but then this is my perfect world and I have all the money I need and no Board, shareholders or employees to worry about. Realistically, all these issues could be resolved within 5 years or less.
The second reason is, of course, the single most difficult barrier to overcome and will not be tackled until someone realizes that future development for smart phones, desktops and laptops is confined to speed, power and storage. The devices are about as feature-rich as we can make them without dramatically changing the form factor and the interface, which brings us full circle back to where this discussion started – Convergence.
It will take someone with the vision, the money and the balls to see the light and take the leap. Not sure if that is Jobs, Gates, or someone we don’t even know yet, but I am convinced that it will happen and soon, and I can’t wait. To be sure, even with all its imperfections, I will be first in line at my local Apple store on the yet unnamed date to pick up my 3G, 64G iPad. You can also be sure both my kids are salivating at the thought of my passing on to them my Kindle and my laptops, but I think they will have to wait a while longer.