Trying to predict the future is tricky at the best of times, but I think it is perfectly possible to use current trends to illustrate future developments. Using trends like this does work. A famous example is “Moore’s Law“. In 1965, the Intel co-founder Gordan Moore suggested that the computing capacity would double approximately every two years. Broadly speaking he’s been proved correct and the development curve has been exponential from the monstrous computers of the 1950s through to the supercomputers of today. Semiconductor companies have based billion pound budgets on Moore’s prediction.
Throughout the 20th Century there has been a trend of rapid and continuous improvement in nearly all fields of human endeavor. We have progressed from the Model-T to the Bugatti Veyron, from the Wright brothers and their rickety bi-plane to the Euro-fighter. From the 8-bit website of the 1980s to the web 2.0 website of today…
The overarching trend is of rapid and innovative technological development. So where is this development curve taking us? Is it possible to pick trends applying to the web and web devices? Yes, I think so.
1) The changing interface
For the best part of 100 years humans have been slave to the QWERTY keyboard. You are using one now, no doubt. User Interface designers have had a nightmare trying to move away from this because it works well and everyone is habituated to it.
There are signs though that QWERTY might no longer be a necessity. Apple’s iPhone and its touch-screen interface have led a revolution in public acceptance of the touchscreen interface and their software based keyboard is intuitive and popular. Touchscreen interfaces are even now being adapted to be tactile. Will we be using QWERTY in another 100 years time? No, I don’t think so. QWERTY is actually quite inefficient. It takes time to learn and even experienced and practiced typists can’t type as fast as they can speak. Voice control would be the perfect way to control machines, but it has been tried many times and so far has proved ineffective. It is still being developed and I hope that someday computers will get smart enough to work with us vocally.
What else could there be? Well, for that I think it’s time to turn to Sci-fi films like Minority Report and Star Trek. In these, computers are always controlled by gesture and the really interesting thing is that these films are beginning to spawn real life babies – E.G. Microsoft’s Kinect gesture motion interface or this example brought to life in 2008. If reliable voice control continues to elude developers, then I suspect gesture control is very much on the horizon. It’s the logical step forward from touch-screen.
It used to be the case that you had to use a 3.5″ floppy disk to move a file between computers. If you were lucky it wouldn’t corrupt on the disk, and if you were even luckier you’d have the right software to open the file on the other computer. Things have moved on somewhat since the 1990s and it is becoming simpler by the week to transfer data and connect devices together.
Most homes are now wi-fi zones to which computers, game consoles, TVs, phones, slates, printers, music systems and even Umbrellas are connected. These devices also access data from the web and increasingly it’s possible to share data easily and natively between them. How many of you have sat in front of your TV and watched a movie from your PC? I think that we will see a rapid increase in the number of devices we’re able to interconnect, and the complexity of the connections they are able to make. The connected home is fast becoming a reality for those with the time and money to make it so. I think the trend will take us far beyond just our houses and flats.
Right there with connectivity is the ability to move your information around with you as you move around the world. We’re pretty used to being able to do this in 2010, but it wasn’t always the case. Even 10 years ago it was rare to find anyone connecting to a website by means other than a PC. Then data networks advanced to a point where browsing from mobile phones became possible and there was a positive explosion of new devices and data tariffs to the extent that in 2010, it’s unusual to find someone under the age of 40 who doesn’t check their email or update Facebook from their phone.
Concepts like Google Docs (you can access your files from any web browser), apps like Spotify or iTunes (you to take your music with you wherever you go) and social websites like Facebook (you can keep in touch with your network anytime, anywhere) have enabled us to access what we want at will from an ever increasing range of platforms.
The technology we use to consume the web is obviously going to have a massive impact on the way the web is built, and the way companies offer up website data for consumption. It used to be enough to create a mobile version of your website by ripping out the big graphics and making it all quick and simple to download. No more. The rise of the mobiles led to the creation of apps, which are now driving companies to create whole new interfaces for their website – delivering data on demand and in new ways. This is only going to accelerate. The potential for apps is limited only by the creativity of developers within the constraints of the technology. This trend is really about the freedom of data. Data is no longer locked into a website, it’s becoming available for everyone to access in different ways.
Conclusions and a quick example
Just like our Grandparents have had to become silver surfers in order to keep up with modern life, I think we’re going to face a similar struggle to learn new systems and new interfaces (probably whilst watching our kids in bemusement and befuddlement).
I don’t see any reason why the pace of change will slow and I think that more than ever before we’ll be interacting with devices in what seem like unconventional ways to us right now. We’ll also carry our lives around with us, accessing what we want when we want it.
I’ll finish with a quick example of what the interconnected and advanced web could bring us. This was born from a discussion about the future of mobile apps that I had with Dan recently.
Currently, diabetics have to monitor their blood glucose levels closely and follow a regime of injections. In my hypothetical future I see people with diabetic implants that report on blood glucose levels directly to their hand-held data device du jour. The device would alert them if there is an issue and it would also alert their doctor who could then send them messages or make an appointment. The device could order new shots of insulin automatically based on how many had been injected and how many the medicine cupboard reported it contained.
Exciting or scary, it’s certainly going to be fascinating living in the 21st century.