Prepare to disown your PC: a prediction on the future of personal computing

August 24, 2011

The introduction of the iPhone changed the destiny of your desktop PC. You probably just didn’t know it at the time.

Clearly, the iPhone was more than just another digital cell phone. It was primarily a computer that happened to include voice calling capabilities. It was a mini-PC in your pocket, like one of my close friends predicted over 15 years ago. But that’s not all. The “computer’s” operating system was different. The app store model for acquiring and installing “software” was drastically different as well. But in hindsight, though those were what got a lot of press at the time, there’s something else that the iPhone did to set the stage for the iPad and the next generation of personal computers: Read the rest of this entry »

Why the iPad isn’t a desktop PC killer (yet)

August 20, 2011

A question to ponder: with the introduction of the iPad, is there a need to own a PC? In other words, does the iPad mean death for the traditional PC for most consumers? After all, it has that slick touch screen and doesn’t require keyboard, mouse, and most other bulky peripheral components that traditional PCs do. Plus, with that slim form factor, you can take it nearly anywhere. And thanks to dual WIFI and cell network compatibility, it can be connected to the internet almost continuously. What more could a user want?

But is it enough to completely replace a PC? Well, in my evaluation, yes…but no. Here’s why… Read the rest of this entry »

How will you be served? A map of modern computing devices

August 17, 2011

My friend who got me into computing made a prediction almost 20 years ago. He was holding a calculator in his hand and said something to the effect of, “Our kids will walk around with something smaller than this that will be far more powerful than what’s on our desks today.” Now back then, powerful was a 486 or early Pentium class machine. But it wasn’t until the advent of the smartphone with the cell data network did his prediction come true. Smartphones are more computer than phone.

And yet, we still have desktop PCs. They’re tremendously more powerful and capable than smartphones (for now) — perhaps even more powerful than we should have imagined 20 years ago. So we find ourselves in a world with a variety of computing devices where no one “uber computing device” rules. I thought I’d perform a somewhat academic exercise and map these devices on a type of “infographic,” to help pinpoint where the gaps are as well as where each type of device excels. It’s a first draft, so feel free to comment. (Click below to get the full size version.)

A Comparison Map/Infographic of Modern Personal Computing Devices

A Comparison Map/Infographic of Modern Personal Computing Devices (Click to view full size image.)

(Note: I realize there certainly could be more spectra added to the map. For instance, I didn’t attempt to include Cost (both purchase price and on-going maintenance costs), User Skill Required for operation, options for Peripherals, etc. It’s not intended to be exhaustive.)

After completing the map, one thing stands out: there is no perfect device yet — no one personal computer option that is at the “best end” of all spectra nor one which falls solidly in the middle of all of them as a perfect balance. What do you think will fill the gap? How will you be served in the future?

Fast vs. Intuitive: a challenge in interface design and why the iPad is only the first step

August 10, 2011

Computer interface designers of the world, I lay a quandary at your feet: in the same interface,  is it possible to provide newcomers with intuitive operation while not hindering experienced users’ desire for speed and rapid productivity? It seems like most commonly, with existing computing interfaces, we find the following at play:

I’d argue that today these two continua seem linked. Intuitive devices — devices targeting the general populace — and are likely optimized for those with fewer existing (computing) mental models. Those wanting extremely fast usage are likely the power users, having more robust mental models built from years of existing computing experience. So the big dilemma is: Read the rest of this entry »

Explaining Software as a Service

August 1, 2011

A family member (who owns a small business) recently asked me about purchasing a new software program. The software vendor apparently offers the ability to use the software over the internet instead of the traditional option of purchasing, installing, and maintaining the individual licenses. All this led to the question “What exactly is Software as a Service?” Well…

Software as a Service (Saas) is different from traditional software in that it doesn’t get installed onto your personal computer. Installing software, as I explain in the lesson “Adding Capabilities” in The Ultimate PC Primer, is like a contractor coming to your house to add something. The completed addition resides with you, expanding the features of your home. Likewise, traditional software must be placed into your personal computer to grant you new capabilities. But SaaS is different. It allows you to make use of  software that resides somewhere else, though you can use (or control) it “remotely” from your computer. Here’s a short story and analogy to illustrate…

I remember the day I came downstairs early in the morning and found my 3-year old watching a DVD movie in our living room. Knowing the disc had been left in the player the previous day, he had figured out how to push the DVD player’s power button, followed by the play button (in addition to the TV power button, of course).  In a few more days, he figured how to change discs. I wasn’t sure I liked him knowing how to play DVDs on his own. After all, nearby were all my movies, and I didn’t think my 3 year-old needed to be watching The Hunt for Red October or something similar. The obvious solution? Relocate my movie collection. But let’s suppose (to help set up the analogy) I took a slightly wackier approach instead — relocating the DVD player. Read the rest of this entry »