Don’t take my word for it.
That’s probably the best advice I could give you regarding the future of computing. The future is cloudy enough, and when you throw technology in the mix it just gets more complicated.
That isn’t to say that it’s not possible to know at least something about the future. We can pull from current trends and make educated guesses on what will probably occur.
So what are the current trends that will more than likely continue?
Where we are
I think there are three big trends to consider: mobility, wearability, and connectedness.
We know that devices are becoming increasingly mobile, and not just because of smartphones and tablets. Of course, smartphones and tablets are the most popular, but laptop form factors like ultrabooks are still big in the business community, as I can personally attest to. Everyone has a smartphone because it’s the most mobile, many people have tablets (mostly for home or travel use), many people have laptops (although I’ve noticed that when it’s time to buy a new device, people are increasingly looking for a tablet instead of a new laptop), and in business it seems to be split between ultrabooks and tablets with keyboards.
Wearable technology is becoming a big market. According to Credit Suisse, it’s projected to grow from $3-5 billion today to $30-50 billion in two to three years. When you look at the excitement surrounding Google Glass and upcoming smart watches like Pebble’s and Apple’s, that definitely makes sense. Wearable devices add mobility, but as of now they’re not fully-functioning devices. I’d call devices like those extended computing devices (see drawn image to the right). They don’t function on their own (for example, Google Glass connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone), they extend the experience of your existing devices. When these devices go mainstream it will initiate a new era (or at least “sub-era”) in computing.
Devices are also becoming increasingly connected. Applications in ecosystems like Google’s and Apple’s are doing a much better job of talking with one another. Take for example the ability of apps to share with each other. Google Plus Photos can pull from Google Drive, Gmail and Google Calendar events can add attachments from Drive, etc. And it makes sense – if a company owns all those assets, why not take advantage of that? The real question is, will companies begin to initiate that connectedness with each other?
While these aren’t the only trends, projecting from these trends shows at least a probable future.
Where we’re going
So what will this probable future look like?
I think if we add all those trends together, the most likely future is projected computing. Instead of just having devices extend our current capabilities, we will have devices the size of Google Glass that operate independently, with the ability to project usable displays (see drawn image to the right).
While thinking through this, my original thought was that having a head-mounted device with the ability to project in front of us would be a bit awkward. We would constantly be turning our heads, positioning the projected display awkwardly between ourselves and others. However, placing it elsewhere would be more of a pain. Technically our torso would be the best option since it remains mostly stationary despite our turning heads, but how would that work? A chip embedded in the fabric of our shirt? Hardly practical. And a display projected from our hands would be just as impractical – too much movement, especially considering our need to manipulate the display with our hands.
Instead, the head-mounted device would have to intelligently differentiate between normal body motion (our entire body turning) and specific head motions (turning just our head to say hi to someone). This would be the ideal scenario, as we would already require the projected display to be at approximate eye level.
Obviously this is just one part of the probable future, but I think it’s a big part. How great would it be to have less of a device to worry about, but more display to manipulate? While one possible future involves chips in our brains, I’m going to stick with head-mounted projectible devices for now.
What it means
We want computing devices to be more mobile and to do more for us. We want them to be discrete, yet powerful. We want access to everything, but maintain our privacy. Such a future is complicated, and invariably one of those aspects won’t be fully achieved. (My bet? Privacy.)
But the future is also exciting, interesting, and unknown. We’ve delved into just one probable future, but there are many, many others. What about how the future of transportation will impact our use of technology? What about the increasing research into and use of robots?
The future can be a scary place, because the unknown always scares us. While we don’t know 100% what it holds, I’m looking forward to how technology plays a part in it all.