Sunday, May 5, 2013

Our Short-Term Technological Future

My goal (so you can fully ridicule me later if I'm wrong) is to tell you what is going to happen in the next few years of computing. And no, it's not going to be a straight forward path, but more a series of if-thens. But I'm pretty sure I'm right. And if i'm right, we are going to end up with that little guy up there in the end. I'm going to name names and call out players.

Here we go

Tech right now is a positioning game. The companies playing are like planets in similar orbits that actually change their mass regularly, so the amount of gravity they have varies, and that changes the pull they have on each other, and the Sun they are orbiting that we could call The Market. And these planets have guns. They have to use their ammo carefully or they might screw up and wound The Market. The major players are:

Google - The smartest kids in the room. 

Microsoft - The best connected kids in the room

Apple - The most patient and calculating kids in the room

Samsung - The butler did it

I'd extrapolate more, but that would destroy the fun of explaining it in a timeline. And yes, there are other players but in one way shape or form, the other players have to appease these guys whether they like it or not. Think Facebook. Facebook has to be friends with all those folks. They can't be catty with any of them. Same with Twitter, or essentially any other players in the tech game. These are the folks that can ruin your life if you anger them and you happen to be any company that isn't them. So lets start with what is happening that is interesting right now:

*Schools are adopting Chromebooks in record numbers because their funding is getting cut, chromebooks are inexpensive, and they are easy as hell to manage and maintain. They are "good enough". Government agencies have taken notice and THEY are adopting them. Businesses have noticed and THEY are adopting them. This has all happened very quietly with only Forbes seeming to have grasped the significance early on. In a crappy economy, things like this rapidly gain moment. Especially when people actually LIKE the tech. Chromebooks are getting a ton of positive feedback from the users, and the people that have to maintain them, and they are insanely cheap. Cheap, easy, and good enough wins every single time.

*Combine all the things! People are getting sick of carrying four and five devices around and the trend to combine things has started in earnest. Above we see a tablet and a phone mutated together to form a Phablet. 

*Here we see +Robert Scoble showing off Google Glass. This is VERY hot right now. And when I see people like Robert talking about how great it is, I KNOW people will want it. In our heads right now, we see this as the future. And it is kinda sorta.

*The tablet-top is happening. Powerful tablets that feature full operating systems. Another combination of two devices so we don't have to carry around as much crap. These don't have much traction yet, but we'll get to that. 

And we have the constant tech from the past few years in the form of the regular phones, and tablets, and laptops and home computers we all use and know. So where we are right now can be characterized like this: 

The typical tech person has 
a phone, a laptop, a tablet, and maybe a home system. 

The more adventurous amongst us have 
a phone, tablet, laptop and no home system. 

The brave have either 
a phablet/laptop or tablet-top/phone combination (two devices).

And the truly insane are actually trying to do everything on a cell-enabled tablet, maybe with a bluetooth keyboard, and they hate their lives and wonder why life sucks so much. They remember life used to be easier but they can't remember why.

So where do we go from here?
well, that depends

Prediction One: Apple will try to go thermonuclear on Chromebooks

Understand that Chromebooks are now eating away at the education dollar. That's traditionally an Apple market. Apple simply doesn't have anything that can compete in that market at the moment, and Google is walking right in and taking it like some band of outlaws riding into a town with no sheriff. Expect Apple to release a cheap laptop to compete here that's specifically for the education market. It will be their version of a "netbook" for education, be insanely cheap, but they won't allow it to directly compete with their retail offerings. Schools have discovered that iPads are ok, but Chromebooks are better, cheaper, they do more, and they have keyboards. They also aren't as fragile. When they do break, nobody loses their work so nobody loses any sleep. Apple can't possibly take the Chromebook menace lying down. Their success here depends on them not overreacting. If this is going to happen, it will be VERY soon.

Prediction Two: Microsoft WILL make a Surface Pro people want

Microsoft doesn't give up when they have no other options. They are VERY stubborn. They will keep trying to make the Surface Pro work (just like they did with the Xbox, and like they are doing with Windows Phones, and Bing) until it does work. Windows 8 isn't nearly as bad as the pundits would have you believe, and a lot of people actually like the Surface Pro despite the tiny sales figures. It's a point of pride now for Microsoft. Expect a successful Haswell Surface Pro device, with a de-moronized version of Windows 8, and a higher quality keyboard. Expect this by Christmas 2013.

Prediction Three: Here comes Google Glass (or Apple Glass. Or Microsoft Glass. Or Samsung Glass)

Our tablet replacement is coming. It's just a matter of time. Google already has the code necessary to duplicate all the swiping gestures you can do on a tablet with your eyes. This means that you'll be able to launch Angry Birds at stupid pigs by blinking very soon. The real question though is who is going to bring a mature product to market first. It's really anybody's game, and you can't even assume Google will take the lead on this. This cat is out of the bag, and it's inevitable now. The simple fact of the matter is that you can look at something a hell of a lot faster than you can point at it with your finger. This will be a success no matter which of the big four pulls it off. And ultimately, whoever does it will be working with Google. Nobody else is in the unique position to offer the "best everything Internet" but Google. So whoever brings this to market in a package that resonates with the masses will still be giving Google money. That's a foregone conclusion.

Final Prediction: THIS GUY!

And this is where the heavy (depends) kicks in. See, there's a huge push to put things on the web (finally). Google wants it. Firefox wants it. AutoDesk wants it. Adobe wants it. Basically every major software developer that ISN'T Microsoft or Apple want it because it will save them a damn fortune. Technologies are happening right now that would put the majority of the processing work for things like Computer Aided Design, or Photoshop, or even games like Crysis on the net itself. We'd no longer need crazy powerful computers to run software. Software designers would no longer have to deal with selling software, or making it available for download, or dealing with bug fixes for 15 different platforms, or porting software to Windows and Mac and Linux, what-have-you. They could write their software one time, and just sell a subscription. Like Google does right now with their Google Business Services. Google is making money hand over fist. Think Gmail, and how it works on everything. Microsoft is doing the same thing with Microsoft Office 365. 

So great right? Nope. Not if Apple kills the Chromebook. Not if anybody but Google succeeds with Glass. Because if Google succeeds in those two areas, that essentially is the future cloud-based market. Glass and Chromebooks (or something similar). And Apple isn't going to be too keen on not having to make hardware anymore (being that they are a hardware company) and Microsoft won't be keen on Google getting all that money. Not when they could have it instead. 

Ok, that's all I've got for now.