There once was a time when computers were available only to a select few. Often working in specialized offices, operators used a terminal at their desk to access a central time-share system. Computers were big and expensive, not generally thought of as a general-purpose tool.
In January 1977, Commodore released the PET - and the world was introduced to the first widely-sold personal computer. This was soon followed by the highly successful Apple ][ which quickly became the most popular computer for the home. IBM responded with the IBM-PC, running Microsoft's DOS.
In the span of a few years, not only had the computer market been turned on its head, but the race was on for bringing users to the personal computer.
We're seeing a new turning point now in computing. Things are about to change.
Since about 2000, technologists have talked about "Web 2.0", where the Web transformed from simple pages and forms, to more of an application platform. Broadband was certainly a player in "Web 2.0", but really it was the feasibility of technologies like AJAX that made "Web 2.0" possible. The browser was powerful enough to become a competing platform in its own right. I talked about the Web platform in my "Part 1" post.
I believe the next generation of the Web, or "Web 3.0", will be focused on the handheld device. We've seen a build up to this over the last year or so. Actually, I've been riding this wave for a few years now. I used to bring my PSP everywhere I went - not (so much) to play video games during idle time, but to browse the web using open wifi. The web browser on the PSP is serviceable for that, and many tech-oriented web sites have had a mobile-enabled version of their site (if not mobile browser detection) for a while now.
But today, if I want to browse the web (IMDB, GMail, etc.) and I'm not at my computer, I'll just use the browser on my smartphone. Welcome to the future!
I think Steve Jobs sees that mobile/handheld computing will be the next Big Thing, so it's not a coincidence that he's betting so much of Apple on the success of the iPad. And given the success of the iPhone and iPod Touch, it shouldn't be a surprise (from an engineering standpoint) that that iPad is basically an iPhone with a larger screen.
The future of computing will focus less on the desktop and laptop - and the operating system - and will emphasize handheld "appliances".
And yes, other IT players are trying to break into the non-phone handheld device market. Microsoft has been touting their "Microsoft Courier" mobile platform for a while now - and just recently killed it. But doubtless we'll see other large-format mobile devices hit the market soon. The Kindle was there first, but they targeted only the book market - I'll be interested to see what device comes next.
If iPad devices are successful (and I think it's safe to say they will be) personal computing will look a lot different in another 5 years. How do you think computing will change?