Predicting the future of technology is a perpetual exercise in futility. But it’s fun. The evolution of personal computing is something that futurists and tech pundits like to try to predict every few years (or months). Like forecasting the weather, you are never completely right or wrong. If you were to ask me where computers, smartphones, and wearables are heading over the next 20 years I’d sit down and take inventory of the gadgets I own today. I’d also take a trip down memory lane to remember the devices I used to own. My iPhone 6 has replaced my camcorder, digital camera, wallet, handheld gaming system, television remote control, and GPS to name just a few.
While mashing all that tech together has made my life easier, I still carry a few separate devices (I know it is a first world problem, but bear with me here). In addition to the smartphone I still lug around a laptop, tablet, and a Pebble smartwatch. I also still enjoy watching “television” on a television. Yes, I am an anachronism. When it comes to productivity, I do many similar tasks on each of the different devices I carry around. Document editing, spreadsheets, and light photo manipulation can be done easily on each device. But syncing them can still be a pain in the rear. This is the lens through which I look at the crystal ball, to predict the future of personal computing.
Looking at convergence that has already occurred, you can easily believe that the few disparate devices we still own will also collide. Further convergence should eliminate the syncing problem and make life just that much more awesome! In the long run you will have one “smart” device and a lot of dumb display terminals. We’ve tried that before, right? Mainframes and dumb terminals were the future 30 years ago. So we are just witnessing the normal evolution of computing. Instead of going from room-sized computers to desktops, we’re going from shrinking handhelds to something even smaller.
I think that in the end, the convergence will lead us to a really awesome wristwatch. But this isn't your grandpa's wristwatch or even the fabled Apple Watch. It's going to be the hub of your digital existence because it is the one device you always have on you. Take your iPhone capabilities, the computing performance of the latest iMac, and squeeze all that down to the form factor of the wristwatch. You will still have “dumb” displays of various sizes that will feature a customized user interface depending on their form factor. This will allow for an optimal user experience while keeping the computing horsepower safely attached to your wrist. Still not sure what I am talking about? Let’s take a look at what I am trying to convey pictorially.
In short, the best way to solve the sync problem (cloud backups aside) is to not have to sync at all. Let the data live on your wrist and you will have it everywhere you go. That's my two cents. Check back in 20 years to see if I am right. I should note that this does not solve one other major problem, having to always charge multiple devices. Even dumb terminals still need juice; perhaps supercapacitors will be the answer to our energy woes.
What do you think? Where is all this miniaturization and “convergence” taking us? What do you think the future of personal computing will look like?
Michael Parks, P.E. is the owner of Green Shoe Garage, a custom electronics design studio and technology consultancy located in Southern Maryland. He produces the S.T.E.A.M. Power podcast to help raise public awareness of technical and scientific matters. Michael is also a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Maryland and holds a Master’s degree in systems engineering from Johns Hopkins University.
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