The future of technology is this: extreme usability coupled with extreme simplicity.
The more we learn about technology — and the more we learn about ourselves — the more we discover and realize how technology can serve us best and make our lives better. As the industry progresses we grow in our understanding of how to make things more usable and simple.
Technology wants to be usable and simple. This is the natural path it will take. It is a rocky road, but an inevitable one. Inevitable for two reasons: (1) the industry will learn how to build more usable devices (both hardware and software); and (2) as users living in a digital age, we will learn how better to use the technology around us. From the development aspect and from the user aspect, technology is sure to become more usable and more simple.
But there is a third element that is not a surety in the future of tech. And that is emotion. Or: a device that delights.
We know that delight matters because there is a market for Ferraris. And even soda pop. If the utility and practicality of an item was all that mattered, then people would only ever drive Honda Accords and drink water. The function of a Ferrari is the same as a Honda: get the driver from point A to point B. However, a Ferrari gets you there with a bit more delight than the Accord. Likewise, a Coke tastes better than a glass of water even though it has no nutritional value.
And so, as the future of technology marches on toward increased usability and increased simplicity, the successes and breakthroughs will be marked by those who also imagined ways to incorporate delight into their products.
It’s Not Over
It was a sad moment when HP killed the TouchPad. I know that many of us, myself included, were hopeful and expectant about the future of webOS. Though the TouchPad’s hardware was left wanting (and some claim that it was the hardware itself that hindered webOS’s performance), the software of webOS 3.0 was clearly showing signs of potential.
When HP made the decision to cease their support of webOS devices and to have a national fire sale of all their TouchPads, many people claimed that the tablet race was officially over. With HP throwing in the towel and no other worthy contender in sight, then it meant Apple had won. K.O.
And maybe that’s true. Maybe the iPad will never be beat. Perhaps it will be the king of the hill for the next 20 years and set the standard for where personal computing is going. And, in a way, I think it is true.
Though where personal computing is going is not the iPad as we know it today, nor the competition that Apple is facing today. The mobile computing industry of tablets and smartphones is still in its infancy. Even the PC industry could still be considered young by comparison to its peer markets. PCs are just a few decades old — younger than some of you reading this paragraph.
Almost 30 years ago, the revolutionary Macintosh looked like this:
In the past 30 years computers have evolved to become significantly more simple, more affordable, more powerful, and more usable. We now have beautiful displays with graphical user interfaces, improved mouse and trackpad technology, and connectivity through the Internet.
After all the maturing computers have done in the past 30 years, imagine what they will look like in another 30 years. If they even exist as we know them today…
Now imagine what tablets and smartphones will look like in 30 years. We have no idea.
In 2007 the iPhone changed everything. Now there is a new game and a new industry of smart phones and mobile computing. But it is by no means in its final state. Those familiar with the iPhone and iOS can instantly spot the advancements between the first iPhone and its operating system and the ones we use today. Someone just coming in, however, — especially if they are not tech savvy — wouldn’t see much of a difference. There is still much to improve upon, much to innovate, and much to invent.
I think that Apple is just now finishing the first step of what it began in 2007. I think that the past four and half years have been one single, epic product rollout for Apple.
The iPhone, iCloud, iPad, iTunes, OS X Lion, Apple TV, and the MacBook Air are, in a way, one single product. And they are today’s quintessential example of technology that is extremely usable, extremely simple, and evokes great delight.
This next season of Apple product releases will mean the drying of the cement that is the foundation for where Apple is headed. The sky will be the limit.
As innovation and adaptation advance we will no doubt see an increase in usefulness and simplicity across all technological markets and industries. The race is no longer about who can make the most useful product. Now the race is about who can make the most delightful product at the most affordable cost.
Apple knows this. It’s why they’re not afraid to cannibalize their own products. It’s why we’re seeing the amalgamation of OS X and iOS. It’s why the iPhone and the iPad are so wildly successful. It’s why the Apple developer community is thriving — because others get it too.
But even Apple — though they are closer than anyone else — isn’t there yet. Nobody is. There is still a long and bright road ahead.