I Have Seen the Future (Thanks to Regular Coffee)

First published February 22, 2007 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

Why do epiphanies always happen in the middle of the night? Why can’t they be more conveniently scheduled during regular business hours, say between 10 and 11 in the morning or right after afternoon break at around 3: 30? But no, they usually occur somewhere between 2 and 4 in the morning. The fact that I was in a semiconscious state for this particular epiphany has everything to do with the fact that we ran out of decaf at the office yesterday, and I figured I could squeeze in just one cup of regular coffee without serious side effects. I was wrong.

Intel’s New Super Chip

This particular epiphany was catalyzed by a short news story about the new research processor chip that Intel is working on. It promises to be a performance breakthrough of breathtaking proportions and while it’s destined for supercomputers, the trickle-down effect to our everyday computing requirements is inevitable. Moore’s Law just keeps rolling along.

So, I asked myself, sometime between 2:45 and 2:49 a.m., with processing power set to take another leap forward, where would this new technology change our lives the most? The answer: mobile computing.

More Horsepower for Mobile

Some time ago I wrote a column about my frustrations with the limitations of mobile computing as it currently sits. But if you can pack enough horsepower into your average mobile device to facilitate things like speech recognition and more robust support for virtual displays, the mobile computing experience becomes much less frustrating. And when that happens, our entire interaction with the Web changes with it.

Right now the majority of our access probably happens in two places: at work or at home. Mobile access is generally limited to checking e-mails right now, and even that is a truncated experience where we’re scanning subject lines to see if there’s any fires we have to put out.

Godin’s Web4

Another thread that went into the weaving of this epiphany was a post I read on Seth Godin’s blog about a month ago, a post he called Web4. In it, Seth talked about the Web as our personal assistant that helps shuffle our schedule, introduces us to new interests and businesses, and generally makes our lives better in a number of helpful ways. For the Web4 that Godin envisions to happen, our computers have to know where we are, always be connected to the Internet, have a quick and easy way for us to communicate with it, and generally fit our lifestyle much better than the current boxes on our desks, whether they be at home or at work.

Living in the Wireless “Clouds”

Here’s another thread. Microsoft’s Live suite has one purpose: to put the functionality of Microsoft apps at your fingertips no matter where you are, no matter what your connection to online is. It “unhooks” you from the desktop and lets you move around and live your life with wireless freedom.

Computing and online access have to fit us, not the other way around. There are times during the day when we tend to stick in one spot for a while. When that happens, it makes sense for us to have a static access point and computing platform with some of the advantages that a little more elbow room could offer. Two places that come to mind immediately: our workplace, and when we sit down at home to be entertained. The rest of the time our computer should move with us.

The Home Box

At home our computers could become the oft-predicted convergent box that provides our entertainment options, but does more than that. It plugs into our home-based activities and keeps them organized for us. It becomes a communications center, our security system, an energy usage monitor, a recipe book and shopping, but most important, it’s our primary link to all our information and entertainment alternatives, allowing us to interact with those alternatives in ways never previously possible.

The Work Box

If we tend to stay in one place at work, it also makes sense to have a static access point to our corporate networks and the Internet. But the minute we get up from our seat, a mobile device would become the access point and computing platform of choice. All the data and functionality that defines us, the things we want at our fingertips, have to travel with us. When you get home you quickly plug it into your home system and the required information would be quickly transferred and the necessary updates would be done. When you get to work, you plug it in to your corporate network and again the required work-related information would be seamlessly transferred. The rest of the time, this little engineering marvel that knows where you are, what you like and what you have to do today would become your primary connection to the wired world.

Search as the Common Thread

When you look at this always-on, always-wired lifestyle, one can only imagine the dramatic uptick that would happen in all types of search activity. Once again, search becomes the common thread that runs through all that. It’s what allows us at home to search through all our entertainment options and find precisely what we would like to watch or listen to right now. At work, it’s what allows us to sift through the mountain of corporate data that resides either on our internal network or on vast online data repositories to find the file we need right now. And when we’re out there, interacting with the real world, it’s our trusted shortcut to the relevant content on the Web.

I happen to think this vision of the future is pretty darn cool. Unfortunately I’m already pushing the editorial boundaries of this column. There still seems to be a fair amount of regular coffee coursing through my veins, so check out my blog for some additional posts on the topic.

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