Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Genealogy, iPads and the Future of Computers

When I first started using personal computers (now there's a term that has disappeared), the main issues were internal memory, memory storage capacity and speed. As the technology developed, I kept moving from computer to computer as the capacity of the computers increased in each of those areas. As I began entering thousands of names into my computers, storage and speed were the big issues. I remember having to wait for a considerable time while the computer chugged along just to search for a duplicate each time I entered a name.

The first mobile devices were mobile only in name. They were first called "portable" which, at the time meant that they could be moved if you were strong enough.

Speeding along in this story, computers finally got so fast that there were almost no appreciable increases in apparent speed with newer models. The main issue in speed increases became the time it took for the computers to startup and to transfer data. I just finished backing up one file from one of my backup hard drives to another, newer, hard drive and it took two full days. Now I am literally swimming in data.

Meanwhile, mobile computers became smaller, faster and were really mobile. I am typing this post on an iPad Pro, looking out the window at the Spring snow on the mountains. The development that makes this possible is the Internet and incredible speed increases. Storage for the iPad has moved to the "cloud" or in other words to online storage such as Google, Dropbox, Microsoft, and many other options. I no longer have to worry so much about the size of my device's internal memory. This iPad Pro has "only" 128 GB of memory, which is more than adequate for operating the programs I need to use.

So, let's get down to the issue of genealogy today. The paradigm is this. I use a mobile device, in this case an iPad Pro, to access the Internet. I can use all of the major genealogy programs, because of the keyboard and the capabilities of the device, that I can with any other computer. In addition, if I wanted to use a desktop program, let's say RootsMagic for example, I could then open that program and have my entire file, assuming I have the file online in Dropbox or some other program. Let me emphasize this. I participated in a genealogical workshop last Saturday and I took my iPad Pro. I worked there for three hours helping people with their family history and used the iPad the entire time. The main challenge was my lack of experience with the iPad. In fact, the entire workshop for fifty people was conducted using laptop computers hooked up directly or through WiFi to the Internet.

Do I still need a desktop computer? Yes, as a matter of fact, I just finally ungraded my iMac and I am waiting for the shipment to arrive. What can't I do as well on the iPad? Hmm. Where the mobile devices, including laptops still lag behind the desktop is in multitasking on a big scale. Although, I could have purchased a laptop and simply attached it to large hard drives and a big monitor. Using a laptop as my principle computer may be in my future. But by that time, the tablet computers will probably have all the same capabilities.

Yes, you need to change your entire approach to computing to use a laptop or an iPad as your "primary" computer. The computer stops being something you have sitting on a desk somewhere that you go to and sit there and use. The computer becomes whatever you happen to be carrying with you at the time. All day long, I seamlessly move from iPhone to iPad to iMac to PC in the Library back to iPhone etc. Why does this work? Because almost every program and most of the data that I am using now in online. I have abandoned an apocalyptic view of computing. Personally, the biggest challenge I face is when I go places that have no online connection which are getting more and more infrequent.

While I was in Canada recently, because of the cost, we abandoned our iPhone connection. But we had WiFi for free almost everywhere we went. That is the reality. In my day to day life here in Provo, Utah I am constantly connected. So my work flow involves using online storage, online programs and moving data from computer to computer automatically.

As I write this on my iPad Pro, I could stop anytime, walk over to my iMac and start typing, right where I left off. I could add a source to the Family Tree from my iPad and then see that same source added on a computer in the BYU Family History Library. This is present reality and the future looks like even more of the same.


  1. Ah, the advantaged of living in the US .... WiFi availability not the same here, James.

    I'm surprised that you didn't mention the effect of mobile devices and Web interfaces causing a dumbing-down of previously sophisticated UIs. For instance, there are less graphically driven UIs, and Microsoft will soon consign MDI (multi-document interfaces) to the scrap heap. This all occurs because it's easier for the vendor to program for the lowest common denominator, not because it gives users anything better to play with.

    1. Thanks, that is a really important point. Mobile devices are severely limited in the use of multiple documents at the same time. I suppose this mostly reflects the limited attention span of the average user. :-)

  2. LOL! I heard that there was some consternation within Microsoft to do with Skype. They wanted to change it to a non-MDI program, presumably for the new Windows interface, and then realised that it lost most of its functionality (e.g. concurrent conversations). Yeah!!!