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

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A radical shift in technology is coming

With consumer electronics we are so used to incremental change that it is sometimes difficult to see long term changes looming on the horizon. As a genealogist, I mostly have a pragmatic and show-me attitude towards claims of radical new technology. But there are an accumulations of changes that indicate to me that there is another major shift in way electronics operate and interact in the workplace that is just around the corner. What is the big change? The wireless integration of handheld and laptop computer systems with traditionally non-computer functions.

Like most other incremental changes this one is approaching a major rift. You saw this first when peripherals like mice and keyboards began to be liberated from their tethers. This was caused by the growth in the Bluetooth technology, a very limited range wireless open technology. Here the operative word is "open." Open technologies mean that no one is claiming ownership or royalties for the development of the technology, anyone can use the development and add to or change it. You also saw this developing with the spread of WiFi devices such as laptops and tablet computers.

Despite computer ads to the contrary, when you buy a new desktop computer your "desktop" soon fills with wires and connectors. The basic revolutionary development of tablet computers, such as the iPad, and the use of iPods and smartphones has eliminated tethered computing to some degree and it appears that the trend will continue to develop.

Why is this a radical shift? Computers have long been associated with a box, a keyboard and a monitor. With the graphic users interface, a mouse or other tracking device was added to the mixture. The advent of laptops foretold the integration of all these separate items into one semi-portable device. Now, the changes have reached the critical point of involving a shift in the way we interact with computers.

A few of the factors going into the shift are as follows:

  • The development of increasingly lighter and smaller devices with powerful computer capabilities.  For example, Apple's new MacBook Pro is its most powerful and fastest computer presently available. 
  • The move from mouse driven interfaces to hand gesture interfaces. Right now, you probably are not thinking of giving up your mouse, but if you are using a smart phone, an iPad or iPod, you have probably not used a mouse lately.
  • The lack of need for a physical wire connection. The explosion of WiFi and Bluetooth devices are quickly eliminating the need for your computer to be physically connected to the network, to printers or to other peripheral devices. 
  • The integration of computers with historically non-computing devices such as TV, radio, and movies. When was the last time you watched a movie? Was it downloaded from the Internet? Likely it was.
  • The combination of computers with telephone service, movies, still and video cameras, GPS devices and many other functions. It is inevitable that the hand held devices with continue to consolidate functions now done by separate items into one all-purpose device. Right now, you can buy a GPS device that will act as a Bluetooth speaker for your cell phone and also show movies and play music. On the other hand, you can buy a cell phone that will do all the same things.

All of these factors are coming together to create an entirely new way of interacting with computer based devices. How many of us thought we would be storing genealogical data on our telephone? All of these factors will continue to force the computers into new formats and new uses. I realized that the day of the dedicated desktop computer was probably dead when I got my MacBookPro and my wife got a keyboard for her iPad.

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