It seems fairly obvious that Apple is betting the future of computing on multi-touch interfaces built around a two-tiered architecture of browser-based HTML5 web apps and local apps more closely tied to the operating system – iOS. Google are also taking a similar path, albeit with a more web-centric approach. I’ve been thinking about this recently and want to talk a little about where I see it all going.

Evolution

Whilst I’m sure it has a few iterations left in it, I’m convinced that the writing’s on the wall for the venerable Mac OS X. I believe it will be slowly phased out over the next 5 years as iOS becomes more sophisticated and mobile hardware becomes more powerful. This is not because Mac OS X has anything wrong with it but that the UI simply isn’t built with touch in mind. This is the very same reason Microsoft is falling into obscurity and will be reduced to a niche legacy player (unless something miraculous happens).

“iDevices” like the iPhone and iPad will evolve to be able to carry out all the power-hungry tasks that we rely on laptops and desktops on for today. We can already see this beginning with the introduction of iMovie, Keynote and Pages apps which will surely be followed by the complete iLife suite over time. While they may not yet have all the functions of their parents they will very soon.

Cloud Services

The current generation of Apple iDevices require that you sync them with your main computer to transfer music and movies etc through iTunes. This is all going to change. With bigger hard disks, better batteries and faster network connections it will no longer be necessary – everything will sync wirelessly with cloud services operated by Apple, Google and others. All of your iDevices will transparently kept updated ensuring you have access to all your data from anywhere.

External Devices

When it comes to interacting with external devices like digital cameras and printers this will also be done wirelessly. Companies like HP and Nikon are already providing wireless options on high-end models of their products and once the communication protocols are standardized this will be built in as standard to iOS and competing platforms like Chrome OS.

Tactile Feedback

A big complaint some people have about touch screen keyboards is that they don’t provide any tactile haptic feedback like a physical keyboard does, making fast typing tricky. This issue will be resolved with technologies which will allow specific areas of the surface of the screen to dynamically raise and lower creating a virtual physical keyboard (or any other interface). It sounds pretty sci-fi but prototypes and patents already exist. Innovations like this will be augmented further by sophisticated voice control (and possibly other forms further down the road).

Conclusion

In 2007 Apple caught the rest of the industry off guard with the launch of the iPhone and while they maybe currently leading the charge there’s a long way to go. While the era of traditional laptops and desktops is far from over the transition to new touch-based form factors is definitely underway. With better hardware, richer apps and sophisticated cloud services the future is looking pretty exciting.

Comments

  1. Matt Hooper says:

    Very insightful. I agree with most of what you have to say but I think that the whole haptic feedback issue will become irrelevant.

    I think this is a problem with new technology meeting old habits. As time goes by and we get less and less use to using tactile keyboards we will adapt.

    I suspect that you are not too far off the mark with the cloud services.

    • David says:

      Hi Matt – I personally agree with you about the haptic feedback being a non-issue but I do think that if something like that can increase typing speeds then it’s a good thing.

      This is also something which would be useful for blind people who would couldn’t otherwise use these devices at all.

    • David says:

      When I was at uni I was a complete Linux geek but then I found out the life was to short to be recompiling the kernel every week and fell in love with my first Mac…

      I think for photography it would be pretty hard to switch to Linux – the software just doesn’t cut it IMHO yet. Still could be worth a try – if you’re coming from Windows probably an upgrade!

  2. Pau says:

    I think that rather than the handwriting being on the wall for OSX, there will be a convergence with iOS. As the iPad tablet-like devices become more powerful more features will be able to be added and to me the expected progression would be toward a touch based system in which the external keyboard/mouse might be something like Wacom’s Cintiq. So while in the long (long-long) term an iPad will be able to do more than my MacPro that horizon is far away. And when that time comes, I would suspect that both iOS and OSX will have morphed into something about as unrecognizable as OSX would be to someone in 1984.

    • David says:

      Hi Pau – thanks for your comment. I’m inclined to agree with you that the two OS’s will converge (which is simple as they both have basically the same core) but that it will be under the “iOS” brand and more skewed towards touch. We should also consider other interfaces such as voice, eye tracking and even mind control which will be thrown into the mix as these technologies become more developed.

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