Matt's Grand Ideas

Technology predictions for the next 10 years

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It’s that time where people make their predictions. I’ll chip in my 2 cents worth regarding technology changes in the future. The last decade, I think, can be described as the decade of the web. The next, in a word, will be mobile.

A wise person said back in the mid-90’s that people need to communicate and be entertained but they don’t need to compute. This is so true. A lot of people have a big fat computer in order to email their family, share pictures and chat with their friends on Facebook or twitter. Over the last three years we’ve started to be able to do this nearly as well, or in some ways even better, with a mobile phone. Some people will start to think that they don’t really need a PC at all.

My first prediction is that the mobile web will become increasingly important throughout this decade to the point that it is one of the primary focuses for web developers.

Currently there are three main web-browser rendering engines: Internet Explorer, Mozilla/Firefox and WebKit (Safari, Chrome), ranked in current market dominance. This is up from one 10 years ago. 1 year ago you might have thought that Firefox was on track to take the lead spot from IE but now, due to the dominance of WebKit in the mobile realm it will probably shift down to spot #3. However, the fact that there are three engines on the radar is quite telling and leads into the next point.

My second prediction is that the platforms for “software distribution” will become more diverse.

The implication here is that more applications will move to the web. Maybe they’ll be a purely web-browser based application like gmail, or maybe they’ll be a hybrid, “fat client” app such as Google Picasa or your twitter app. The key thing is that developers won’t have the luxury of focusing on a single platform (traditionally windows for PCs and more recently iPhone or blackberry for mobile apps). A couple years ago being a blackberry developer might have seemed a pretty elite title. Now the iPhone is the cool gadget. Soon Android will be too big to ignore. You’ll need a plan for supporting each of these and more. Some devices you target will get bigger, some will get smaller. A lot of your current assumptions won’t be valid.

This ties into the previous prediction because the one common thing all of your devices will have is the web.

My third prediction is that operating systems won’t matter nearly as much as they used to. An OS for consumer products will merely be a set of drivers needed to launch a web-browser. Some people, especially media creators (video, graphics, etc), software developers and people who do intense computations will still use a PC and care about an OS. Most consumers won’t care. They don’t care what OS is on their TiVo or their mobile phone. They may use their TV to browse Youtube, their smart phone for facebook and their Desktop PC for wikipedia. Each will have a different OS.

Moving on to prediction four, media distribution will change. Blu-ray discs cost twice as much as DVDs. You still have to go to the store to buy them or the video store to rent them. But more and more devices have Internet connections and people are starting to realize that they can watch videos streamed over the Internet with satisfactory quality. They can do it cheaper than Bluray and it’s more convenient because they don’t have to leave their house or wait.

Amazon now offers a service where you can buy a movie, get it in the mail on disk in a few days but watch it over the Internet immediately. This will help lead the transition and soon people will think of the disk as an inconvenience.

Final prediction: Two devices are better than three, and one is better yet. A tech-savy person may now have a PC, a netbook and a smart phone. Or maybe it’s a PC, an iPod and a cell phone. Or maybe it’s a gaming PC, a laptop and an iPhone. Maybe they have a digital camera to toss into the mix. They have numerous devices that contain data they want.

Currently there’s lots of talk about netbooks and tablets, but both of these are transitional technologies because they’re an extra device to tote around. People want to carry less.

When web-enabled smart phones with a speedy data connection where rare and flash data storage was small, it made sense to want a special computer for carrying around with you. If you loved music you probably wanted an iPod but you sure wished you could combine the iPod with your cell phone. You had a great digital camera but you often used your cell phone’s camera because you always had it with you.

The iPhone and its brothers are getting pretty good but sometimes you just can’t get done what you want to on a 3 inch screen. It makes sense that netbooks and soon tablets would be popular for a little while. But it’s another device to carry. You’ll stick your phone in your pocket but still have to tote around this other device if you want to use it.

In tomorrow’s connected world, the last thing you’ll want to leave is your phone. It’s your camera, your communication device, your map and in a pinch, allow you to look up information on the web or create content. You’ll yearn for a single device that can do all that you want. It’s camera won’t be as good as your DSLR, it’s screen won’t be as big as what’s on your desk at work. The input will be slower than a keyboard, but it’ll always be with you and you can get the job done wherever you are. And these things will improve, fuelled in large part to improvements in user interfaces.

The only platform that will matter by the end of the decade will be a mobile communication device. And all of these points back to the first prediction above.

Web guy, big thinker, loves to talk, teach and write. I make technology easier to use @ John Deere ISG.

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