Your world is about to change.
The world is always changing, of course. New technologies emerge as old ones die away. Demographics and social mores drive new values and new behavior. Circumstance and providence conspire to befuddle prognosticators and corporate strategists alike. Change drives the adoption of new technology; it is the holy grail of corporate America. Innovation is rewarded, and stagnation is punished.
What is innovation, then? Is it Facebook? Is it Samsung’s S4? Is it Google Glass, the highly anticipated juxtaposition of technology and style? Is it the latest app for your phone, or the latest trend on Twitter? Or is it less material, like the packaging around a new toy that makes it irresistible to a consumer? Or might it be analytics; understanding your customer to the point where you can produce a product that you know will be consumed?
Perhaps. These are innovations, certainly, but not on a grand scale. They are the incremental changes that accompany fundamental shifts in the collective consciousness of technology. Facebook was an incremental change in the paradigm-shift known as Web 2.0. The S4 is the latest innovation from Samsung’s adoption of the Android smart phone. Google Glass is the newest and sexiest iteration of a convergence device oriented at tech-savvy consumers. Small changes that generate billions and billions of dollars, but in the grand scheme of things, they are no more than a retooling of the same hammer that you use to drive a nail. It may be better balanced with a better grip and a lighter feel, but it is still a hammer.
The next great shift in how we consume and/or create data and information will be a product of a fundamental shift in computing. The way you interact with applications and the internet is poised for a dramatic swing in architecture. And, once again, I predict that the technology behind this swing is cloud.
We see this change already. Desktops and laptops become less relevant to the end user as edge devices become the norm. Cell phones and tablets and other processor and memory constrained devices proliferate as bulky core devices become less and less relevant for consuming and creating information. This is because compute can be done in the cloud. In the future, computing will be done external to the access device. Your phone will not crunch numbers and render complex graphics; it will display the results of the compute farms of external providers. Your data will not be accessed locally from one hardware platform or another; access will be ubiquitous, from any device at any place at any time. Your edge device will be responsible for managing and executing the application stub that it hosts and ensuring that the look and feel of the results is consistent with your expectations as a user. Platform differentiation will not be a function of computing power or screen size, but rather of application availability and end user experience.
As manufactures orient their tools and products towards the edge consumer, applications and websites cater more and more to the growing number of mobile users. Most of my own interactions with websites and applications now occurs over the phone; the fat client is a legacy memory that is recognized only at work and when I blog for you.
Applications that provide functionality that is independent of need will also change. The $499 price tag of Microsoft Office or the $299 price point of Adobe Acrobat will only be a bad memory in the future. You will pay for the service of an application as you use it. Functionally, you will have a subset of the app installed on your access device; operationally, you will access and pay for the service you require of Microsoft Excel only as you use it. Consumption will be measured in dollars and cents rather than in the hundreds, and manufacturers will strip away irrelevant functionality for users that do not demand it and instead construct leaner and more efficient code for the applications they sell to you on a subscription basis.
Apps as they exist today will only be a product consumed by the enterprise. For the vast majority of us, data will be consumed as a widget or as a mobile app that collates and formats data for quick and easy access on a device that is not equipped for processor or memory intensive applications. There is no next generation of web browsers in ten years; apps that organize information relevant to the consumer will be the norm. Information will not be accessed; it will be streamed. You will no longer have to search for news or subscribe to an RSS feed to find out what is happening in the world; your Flipboard app will know your content and perspective preferences and will provide you information customized for you and formatted for your device. Access will be instantaneous and functional; you won’t have to search for it, nor will you have to scroll through endless pages of irrelevant data.
Of course, edge device processing capability will continue to increase, and the ability to present information to a user will continue to divorce itself from the confines of a single screen. Nevertheless, your edge device – phone, tablet, or the next really cool thing – is only as awesome and functional as the software that runs on it. It’s like the bag you use to carry your laptop – important, but what’s really relevant is what is on the inside. That’s where the magic is. That’s where work gets done. The bag has to be big enough to hold the laptop and protect it, but it’s the applications and the data on the laptop that you really worry about.
I don’t see SharePoint or Oracle or Hyperion disappearing anytime soon. But these solutions are on the back end, hidden from the end user. They are the compute engines that will drive our future. How we access these apps will change; our interaction with them will be only a subset of what they are capable of. It will be with those components that have immediate relevance. Office will continue to thrive, but it will be a different animal than it is today.
Last year, 60% of all venture capital went to software startups. Everyone is looking for the next Facebook or Instagram. Application development dominates the VC space, because the rewards of a successful public deployment are staggering. Economically, monetization will occur on a subscription basis. However, in the short term, there is a mad rush to a perceived finish line of platform independence. Google and Apple and Microsoft and every other cloud/cloud-app provider see this state as the holy grail of consumer loyalty; a single, uniform, uncomplicated, and pervasive platform for accessing data from any one of your devices to any one of your other devices.
The world is always changing. It will be interesting to see how this permutation turns out.