ET’s Predictions (Year 2)

In keeping with Explain Technology’s anniversary tradition, it’s time to make some predictions about the technology market as it impacts new users of technology and how we who explain technology may need to acclimate. From my perspective, the future looks pretty sweet, and so this can be pretty short…

Interfaces: reach out and touch something

Next-generation touch interfaces have permeated much of the market. What the iPhone started the iPad and iPod Touch have propelled to become a high-demand feature, causing many other manufacturers to follow suit. I’m not quite sure how to evaluate this trend. On one hand, the touch interface changes very little. It merely replaces what the mouse has always been intended to do: pinch-hit for your built-in pointer. Now that you get to use your actual finger, I think this, in some ways, makes explaining how to manipulate icons and buttons in an interface a little easier. It is earth-shaking change? Probably only for the folks who know how hard good touch-screen technology was to create — those who knew the way the graphical user interface has been for several decades. Newcomers instead might think, “Okay, I tap this. Yep. That makes sense. What’s all the hubub? You mean it hasn’t always been this way? Why not?!?”

I don’t think the mouse’s death is imminent, but I do think having touch interfaces as an option where they make sense will help newer users understand interface concepts a little easier, especially in light of…

Device Convergence: everything’s a computer

The gap between smartphone, netbook,tablet PC, full laptop PC, and desktop PC is closing. Laptops — once considered portable but unequal to the desktop — are just as good as their bulkier cousins in most cases. Netbooks are even being used like primary PCs for some. The iPad has made the tablet PC a distinguished reality, unlike its tablet-laptop predecessors, though time will tell if it’s useful as more than a one-way media consumption device. Aside from screen size, most smartphones have an astonishing number of features similar to PCs as well: QWERTY keyboard, web browser and internet access, and applications which can be added in quantities limited only by storage capacity. While the original iPhone was more like a primitive PC (running only one app at a time), now multitasking makes smartphones start to look suspiciously like the “PC in a pocket” my original computer mentor and I dreamed (over 20 years ago) we’d one day carry as commonplace tools. Add to this persistent, high-speed network connectivity, and it’s even beyond what we envisioned. It’s almost staggering to stop, step back, and think: this is all becoming very common place stuff. Should we be afraid that it’s also all becoming too difficult to explain to newcomers? I don’t think so.

This is good news for us core-concept explainers. As the smaller devices have gained power, they have adopted many conventions of their larger predecessors. So core concepts remain mostly the same, requiring fewer variations in explanation. Essentially, all these devices are now just personal computers of differing size, features, and varying capabilities, and most use much of the same interface concepts. If anything, this gives me hope that teaching core concepts has new life, and that The Ultimate PC Primer still has a chance for publication. At one time, I considered that in addition to a personal computer book, a resource on other digital devices might be necessary due to drastically different interface conventions among electronics. I’m now convinced that resource may not be necessary. The good news for me, explainers like me, and developers simply hoping to see interface concepts standardized is everything is becoming a computer. The bad news for those who don’t already understand existing PCs is that their world is about to get a lot more confusing.

Explain Technology’s 3rd year and The Ultimate PC Primer

I’m dedicating this next year of Explain Technology to those people in the workforce who know they’re struggling and missing something, unable to keep up with with their tech-savvy peers. Consider the organizations who are already finding their employees haven’t kept up. How do you think all this rapid digital change is affecting their businesses? Yes, I’m sure that device convergence will help some. The redundancy will be beneficial, allowing them to see the same concepts in use on their phone, computer, etc. But some will just be as baffled as ever, because they’ve never really understood to begin with. I’ve been astonished at the number of recent stories I’ve collected where the chief problem with productivity within an organization centers around individuals’ complete lack of understanding core computing concepts. When I began writing The Ultimate PC Primer, it was supposed to be a book geared toward those approaching or in retirement. I had no idea I would find so much need for a book on core PC concepts within the workforce. That’s why you can expect more discussion on Explain Technology about helping our workforce achieve better productivity though better understanding of common technology.

So here’s to another year of explaining technology!

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