Unlocking the Secrets Behind the Post-PC Era
Stats from Facebook's S1 Registration
We've all grown up with computers. Well, if you're my generation -- X -- your first experience with them was probably as a kid under 10 years old, which isn't quite the same as thinking a magazine should work like an iPad, but that's kind of the point: The introduction of smartphones and tablets means that the youngest generations will grow up in a world where the PC is just another device, and not the device like it was for me. A computer is going to be more like a washing machine -- useful, but not the hub of your digital life.
So if the computer's not the hub, but rather your digital experience is woven into daily life instead of sitting in front of a screen and keyboard, what will the world feel like?
A lot more connected, for one. Facebook's recent S1 Registration prospectus, a document that's filed to register the securities with the SEC, shows how much reach Facebook already has. For those of us that live in the tech world this has been obvious for some time (hence the impetus behind Socialize), but the numbers are still staggering. Facebook has 845 million active monthly users (more than 2x the population of the entire US) and 483 million active daily users (still more than the population of the entire US). Using Facebook doesn't require a computer -- just some type of digital interface, like a smartphone. Of Facebook's 845 million monthly active users, 432 million of them used a mobile device to access Facebook. That's already over half the total and growing quickly.
Scene from Sixth Sense TED video
It can be hard to imagine interfacing with the internet without a computer and keyboard. Often people try to imagine the equivalent of a monitor and keyboard projected onto a wall, and although forward thinkers like Pranav Mistry have done some very interesting work in this space, I'd argue that by and large, the monitor and keyboard are artifacts of an age when the only workable input & output mechanisms technology allowed were these very limiting interfaces, and you're better off forgetting about them entirely, and instead thinking about how analog beings (i.e., you and I) experience life naturally. We aren't born knowing how to type, after all, but we all naturally learn spoken language to interface with other people. We all learn body language, and the importance of human hearing, smell and touch. Technology started off by using sight as its primary interface and has been largely been stuck in that one sense.
The iPhone's Siri interface
But recently, advances like Siri for the iPhone are showing us that being able to interface with the digital world in more natural ways isn't that far in the future. And the rise in importance and usefulness of Audio APIs is another great example of the expanding human senses technology is successfully utilizing.
I'm also very bullish on appliances starting to become smarter thanks to apps. For example, having an app running on your refrigerator seems silly until you ask yourself this question: Have you ever been at the grocery story and unsure if you had to buy more milk? Wouldn't it be nice to have a refrigerator that was a bit smarter and could tell you what you needed to buy -- or better yet, just order what you needed for you, within certain parameters you set, like a monthly budget?
How about your stove? Have you ever left the house wondering if you remembered to turn all the burners off? If your stove was smarter, it could answer a query as to whether you'd shut everything off, or better yet it could alert you if you left and didnt' turn everything off. Imagine receiving a text message (technically a "push notification) from your stove telling you "You left the house without turning me off! I've shut all the burners off until you return."
We're already starting to see connected appliances, and with the rise of APIs (as I talk about in this keynote), creative people will start mashing up all sorts of great experiences between appliances and other facets of our lives (imagine your refrigerator being able to interface with your Mint.com account. "You don't have the budget to order Haagen Dazs this month, so I ordered Breyers ice cream for you instead.") APIs enable that sort of thing. And as I discuss in this post, an app is a perfect vehicle for smart appliance functionality because an app is great at doing one thing, and doing it really well.
Also just now coming over the technology horizon are smart sensors. As we move beyond PCs, the devices we are using will become much more aware thanks to smart, connected sensors that communicate with your smartphone (or similar device). I can imagine sensors being woven into clothing (a ski jacket with a bluetooth-enabled barometer to help predict dangerous avalanche conditions, a breathalyzer woven into your collar to tell you if you can drive). These types of sensors already exist in a big way (as I outline in this presentation about apps) and mobile apps are the perfect vehicle to tie them together and make them smart.
There's a lot more to the post-PC era, but what it really means for the average person is more freedom, in a more connected manner. You'll have access to information wherever you are, and you'll be able to make better decisions because you'll have more data ready at your fingertips with which to make those decisions. This has all already begun in, but we're just at the beginning of it.
Maybe Ray Kurzweil isn't so crazy after all -- maybe the Singularity is Near.