The Next Big Thing.

Seven years ago, Steve Jobs gave the world the iPhone, and with it, Apple changed the mobile phone (and by extension, the consumer technology) industry forever. It gave rise to a new generation and category of devices that were only drool-worthy concepts, before. Today, courtesy of the overwhelming growth of the gadget market, we face a situation no one had probably dreamed of before: the problem of plenty.

You want a good smartphone you will be using to call, text, chat, tweet, browse the internet and email? You get the shiniest iPhone, Galaxy S, Xperia or Nexus device in the market. You realize your phone isn’t as good a device to read on for long periods, and you can’t type long emails on it? You gift yourself a tablet. But may be you are different, and you don’t mind using a phone that covers most of your face (if not all) while you make a call? So you compromise by not buying 2 separate devices and buy a ‘phablet’. Oh, and the recent trend towards smart-watches.

That’s just the form factor, the choice of the OS you want the phone to run on, the must-have apps, the brand, the network, are a whole different set of questions. And let’s not even get into raw specifications. All this, before you buy a device. Then come the compatibility, data transfer, accessories, apps, battery, speed issues.

In the quest to find a simple solution to get work done on the go, the number of variables to be considered before buying a device has been steadily increasing, and over time, the whole situation has only gotten more complicated.

So, where do we go from here?

I see a future where each device I use communicates with the other and all of my data is omnipresent, not in a device or in the cloud. I see a future where all of my devices are aware of the other devices I use and it knows when I need, what I need. I need to be able to use the device I’m closest to, to answer a notification, instead of having to reach out to the device it came on.

That brings me to the next part of this post: What exactly will be the future? Artificial, contextually aware intelligence, and convergence.

With Google Now, Google took a huge leap forward in terms of AI. It is a commendable service, but everytime I see a Google Now notification light up my phone, I realize just how much better it can be and the potential it has. Same goes for Siri and for Cortana (note: I haven’t used Cortana, I have only seen demos of it). Something intelligent enough that understands me and my requirements, not just the data I need, is what it needs to become. A service that wouldn’t push me to a Google search each time it encountered something it hasn’t been programmed to answer, but something that’d learn. I like Siri with the regard that if it doesn’t pronounce my name right, I can tell it to. That care, that  desire to make a service better by taking inputs from the user and machine learning is what these services need to become, need to develop into.

When Apple showcased OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 at its World Wide Developer’s Conference in June, ‘Handoff’ and ‘Continuity’, were highlighted and appreciated by everyone who covered the event. They are simple ways to continue an email / document you started writing on your iPad, and complete it on your Mac; or picking up a phone call you get on your iPhone, with your Mac, instead. Google demoed similar things for Chrome OS and Android, but that’s much more limited. These may be limited in their application now, but they are sure to grow deeper and more useful. I want to gesture an open tab in my browser on a public PC / Mac onto my tablet because I’m leaving the desk, without having to go through a setup and pairing process. I want to be able to start writing a blogpost on my phone while I’m traveling, only to find the app open for me on my desktop / laptop when I get there. The possibilities and the scope for growth is endless.

Technology has always been about simplicity and it’s time that simplicity starts getting derived from not being bound by devices or services, but by giving users the freedom. Technology works best when it gets out of the way to get work done, instead of interrupting and interfering with it.

The Xerox PARC’s invention of the mouse was the defining event that changed the world of personal computers forever. So was the iPhone, almost 24 years later. Considering how dynamic the gadget landscape today is, it’ll be a while before it settles down. But the pace with which Artificial Intelligence and convergence have been moving and helping make lives simpler, is astounding. There remains much to be done, and much to achieve, but it all seems like a step in the right direction.

I’m excited for how much wonderful my life will become when the next big thing comes around.

Here’s to the next big thing.

5 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing.

  1. “Technology has always been about simplicity.”
    And so is this post. I am not that much a tech-freak and when i came to know what your new post is about i was prepared to go through a lot of Chinese words and lines.
    But much to my surprise, i get every word of it and the meaning you wish to put behind it. Nice one Setu and now i am waiting for the next big thing too. 🙂

  2. That’s pretty much where it goes. But I’m afraid you seem to be unaware about how machine learning works. Asking you to repeat how your name sounds in response to a complaint isn’t machine learning.

    Besides, ubiquitous computing is already in the works. You are right when you express the need for seamless workflow, but instead of being the next big thing, it’d much rather be called the on-going big thing. True ubiquitous computing is made difficult more by the limitations of the tech companies’ monopolies rather than by technology alone. If a single company were to hold a grip on devices, Mobile OS, Desktop, and the tablet world, it wouldn’t be so hard. Technically, we can be there. The problem lies in strategizing such a move in the perfect way so as to boost usership.

    1. Hey ‘Some Guy’,

      I’m not an expert in machine learning, but when a machine makes a mistake, I point it out, asks me what the correct way is, corrects itself, and remembers it for the future, that seems pretty smart to me. I agree that that’s not machine learning. Machine learning would be if while listening to some conversation I had, it learnt how to do that. Someday we’ll be there, and that’s when it’ll have struck gold.

      ‘Ubiquitous computing is an on-going big thing’, I think that’s only partially true. It’s under development and the roll-out will be in phases. The mouse was dismissed by PARC itself, and few saw the potential the iPhone had when it was released. In hindsight, it seems comical that such great creations were laughed upon. But, the same goes with the convergence phase. It’ll only be when it’s adopted by the masses, by many companies big and small (and not just the top 3, Apple, Google and Microsoft), that it’ll be the big thing that I see it as becoming.

      I agree with you entirely about the fragmentation in the OS space holding back the consistent workflow. I use an iPhone as my mobile phone and a Windows laptop as my primary PC, and sometimes it is downright painful to use them together. The Windows software offerings from Apple are half-baked. But, when I think about it, I get why that’s the way it is. The intensity of the platform wars going on right now, and the way they’ve only become more bloody, is the reason each one of them keeps a tight grip on their OSes, tying them together as much as possible. Someday, the platform wars will subside and it will change, but until then, I’m satisfied with what I have today.

      It’d have been great to have your response to this, but seeing you haven’t left a real email ID, I’m less than hopeful. I’m glad to have read this comment from you, today.

      Thank you, Some Guy.

      -Setu Shah

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.