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Today’s Phones and Tablets Will Die Out Like the PC

July 22, 2013
       The mobile computers killing the PC will themselves be replaced as computing becomes embedded into the world around us.

The personal computer is dying. Its place in our lives as the primary means of computing will soon end. Mobile computing—the cell phone in your pocket or the tablet in your purse—has been a great bridging technology, connecting the familiar past to a formative future. But mobile is not the destination. In many ways mobile devices belong more to the dying PC model than to the real future of computing.

Instead, the future of computing is at a very large scale. I am not referring to the room-size monstrosities from computing’s dawn in the 1960s. I’m talking about a diffuse and invisible network embedded in our surroundings. Chips and sensors are finding their way into clothing, personal accessories, and more. These devices are capturing information whose impact is not yet meaningful to most people. But it will be soon enough. The question we need to answer is: how will these intertwined systems of hardware and software be designed to meaningfully add to our lives and to society?

Today we are enjoying what computing has done to enhance our lives, but we do not like having to baby-sit all the devices that give us access. We have to tell them what to do. The next wave of computing devices will be different because they won’t wait for our instructions. They will feel more like natural extensions of what we do in our lives. The hardware and software technologies behind this ubiquitous-computing model will become the focus of a radically changed computing industry.

These technologies will also change the way we look at computers. For example, making payments through a smartphone requires that the user unlock the phone, swipe to find the application, launch the application, and then initiate the payment function. But a smart watch could be designed to initiate a payment when you tap it on a payment terminal. There are so many of these ordinary functions that can be enhanced by computers but should not involve the overhead of operating a computer.

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