Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why platform matters less, part 2

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?


  1. I hate blogger. I had a MASSIVE post typed up. I hit Preview, and it vanished! ARGH!

    I'll summarise it, and anyone interested can ask me the more because I am NOT typing all of that again. iDevice-born App-store mentality will destroy consumer choice and software freedom. Web apps will make hardware vendors lazy and they'll charge us ridiculous amounts for yesteryear's technology because they won't need to invest anything in making better stuff. Sony are poised in a perfect place right now to take advantage of the App-store mentality and seize some home-computing marketshare, but they're idiots, and they won't.

  2. Sorry, it's Blogspot, not Blogger...

  3. Hi Noobix.

    I'm definitely no fan of closed systems, and I've written about that already. That doesn't change my view that the handheld will be the next battleground in computing.

  4. Note that "handheld device" doesn't necessarily mean "closed source". But you're right that the "app store" mentality, where one entity determines what applications are / are not available to users, is detrimental.

  5. I don't disagree that handhelds are the new battleground. I find I use my phone for just as much as my computer, other than movies, these days. This coming from someone who could never see the value of internet access on a phone, or even of a camera on a phone (that's going back a few years now, I thought that. Who'd want to browse on a two inch screen?). Now I have an awesome little thing called a Motorola Backflip (and happen to sell phones), and I couldn't be without it for more than ten minutes. Every bill I get shows the vast majority of what I do is internet use.

    I'll expand a little on what I said about Sony though - was in a bad mood after losing my post. As computers go, the PS3 is pretty cheap these days. There are cheaper computers, of course. Thanks to the app-store mentality, if Sony bundled the PS3 with a keyboard and mouse, and some crippled text editing stuff like Notepad, some families might be encouraged to, instead of buying a AU$1500 computer for their kids, buy a PS3 with some office software. The app-store mentality comes into it with Sony's online store, of course. People now think about apps for their devices, not programs for their computers. Of course, this isn't limited to office software. Lots of people might want some simple video editing, or some not so simple after-effects software, or even 3D modelling suites. Imagine if the Playstation Marketplace were opened up to almost all submissions (subject to review by Sony), and the SDK were sold dirt cheap.

  6. What's old-is-new. The artificial push for a client-server platform on both iThis&That and Android can't survive. They need to either migrate to established platforms (Windows or Linux applications).

    The thing I find most lacking about Android is the poor selection and quality of their "apps". This is because the platform is young. My question is if it runs atop of Linux why is it necessary at all? If I remove my Android "layer" then I get access to all the efficient, reliable, familiar, and interoperable applications I'm used to...the ones developed by teams of programmers with the weak having been weeded out over the last 20 years. This is in stark contrast to the 1990's "lone geek in a garage" style "apps" for Android. I see a lot of OLD programming and design mistakes rising from the grave...memory leaks, proprietary file formats, incompatible performance/feature hacks, etc...


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