Friday, September 6, 2013

Let me share a vision of the future

I've been thinking about the future of technology, and specifically the convergence of mobile devices and laptops. Some vendors have experimented in this space, with mixed success. It seems a matter of time until someone strikes the right balance, and this new device becomes the next "must-have" technology that displaces even the iPad.

While I'm not a particular Apple fan (I run Windows and Linux at work, Linux and Mac at home) I do believe Apple will be the first to find the "right recipe." They have the right mix of customer base, brand loyalty, and the engineering to do something truly remarkable in this space. But I also believe Apple is currently less engaged in innovation, so will require three incremental steps to get there. Let me share a vision of this possible future path:

1. The iPad as desktop accessory (2014)

Apple releases a new "interactive trackpad" accessory, about the size of an iPad Mini. Similar to the current Apple Magic Trackpad, the "Interactive Magic Trackpad" has a video display like an iPad Mini, but no storage and minimal internal computing technology. It's not intended to be an iPad; it's a new kind of mouse trackpad for Mac desktops and laptops. The "Interactive Magic Trackpad" links wirelessly with your Mac—or connect via Apple's Thunderbolt if you need to charge.

With the "Interactive Magic Trackpad," users can still move the pointer using tap, point, and swipe gestures. But now the "Interactive Magic Trackpad" can display interactive images—such as a menu of options or other actions—if your Mac software supports it. The trackpad can even play sounds like an iPad, which is a useful enhancement for user feedback. People who do a lot of photo manipulation via Photoshop immediately fall in love with the ability to move images, pinch to zoom, twirl to rotate … and the ability to put shortcuts to commonly-used tools on the "Interactive Magic Trackpad." The Apple faithful quickly make this the new "must-buy" accessory.

2. The iPhone becomes an iPad (2015)

Building on the success of the "Interactive Magic Trackpad" accessory for Mac desktops and laptops, Apple creates a new way for people to people to bond with their iPhone. Released at the same time as a new-model iPhone and iPod, the new "iPhone Surface" is similar in size to the most popular iPad model, but has no storage and only minimal internal computing technology. Pair it wirelessly with a new-model iPhone, and the "iPhone Surface" becomes an interactive remote touchscreen. You're still running all your apps on the iPhone, but the touch input and audio & video output goes through the "iPhone Surface." You can even make Facetime calls via the new "iPhone Surface," or you can use your phone for voice calls while using the "iPhone Surface." If you don't have an iPhone, you can still pair the surface to a new-model iPod.

This new "iPhone Surface" device doesn't become a new i-device by itself, but becomes an inseparable accessory to the iPhone or iPod. The iPad still remains a popular tablet for many users, but an increasing number of Apple faithful ditch their iPad in favor of doing everything on their iPhone and new "iPhone Surface." Within a year, people wonder why we ever carried two devices that were effectively the same: an iPhone and an iPad.

3. The iPhone becomes the computer (2016)

If an iPhone can act as the computing device that powers an iPad-like display, why can't it be the computing device that powers a keyboard and mouse, like a Mac? The iPad or "iPhone Surface" is great for consuming content (videos, photos) and light content creation (updating Facebook, responding to a few emails) but tapping your fingers against an unforgiving, hard, glass surface is too much for all-day work. So Apple releases a new iPhone/Macbook hybrid (let's call it the "Macbook Micro") for on-the-go users.

Most of our applications run in the Cloud (think Gmail) and very little actually needs local computing power to run. Look at what programs you use everyday; most of your time is spent in a web browser, and probably less than 25% using a traditional desktop application. In the Apple universe, "power" users are the only people who need to run big applications like Photoshop that require huge amounts of RAM and CPU. The rest of us mostly need a device that connects us to the Internet using a keyboard and mouse to do our work via a web browser.

The new "Macbook Micro" is designed to accommodate this market. Pair your iPhone wirelessly with the "Macbook Micro" and your iPhone becomes your computer. Connect via Apple's Thunderbolt to use the Macbook Micro's built-in battery to power (or charge) your iPhone while you work. You're still running all your apps on the iPhone, but the mouse & keyboard input and audio & video output goes through the "Macbook Micro." Disconnect the iPhone, or just wander out of range, and your data and apps go with you. Your laptop is essentially "in your pocket, on your iPhone." Reconnect the iPhone to "Macbook Micro" to bring up your apps right where you left them. You can pair your iPhone to multiple "Macbook Micros" (think "home" and "office") but you can only connect to one at a time.

The magic of the "Macbook Micro" is in how the iPhone manages the display. With the previous "iPhone Surface," the iPhone's iOS interface looks the same on the surface and on the phone; the only thing that changes is where it displays. Connected to a "Macbook Micro," the iPhone's iOS interface should adapt to suit a keyboard & mouse setup. iPhone apps (web browser, iTunes, etc) should use an API that recognizes a "Macbook Micro" connection and changes their interface to one with the familiar Apple menu bar when connected to a "Macbook Micro." Apple is capable of making this work. The look-and-feel of MacOSX and iOS aren't worlds apart; Apple has taken great care that they should should look and act similarly but not identically. Microsoft hasn't learned this lesson yet with Windows 8 and Metro: people use a tablet or phone differently than how they use a keyboard & mouse.

With the release of "Macbook Micro," Google's hugely successful Chromebook gets pushed aside as an "also-ran." No one wants to carry around a phone and a laptop, unless they are essentially the same.

While the market seems unwilling to adopt this device today, we may in a few years consider it obvious that our computer fits in our pocket, as a phone, ready to be docked to a keyboard and monitor for more traditional "desktop" computing.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.