Monday, August 16, 2010

The Next Big Thing

Edited: Some HackerNews comments have prompted me to clarify that this was written with a sense of humour. The alleged 'pattern' of 2 little, 2 big was a joke, and the sensible expectation of persistence or new input/output technology just happened to fit with it. So I commented on it.

This article, The Web Is Passing Most Of You By... And You Are Asleep put my mind back onto the topic of what tomorrow's great tech fads that shape our world will be. It seemed prudent, at the time, to make a chart:

(click to see it a bit bigger, dumb blogspot)

The thing speaks for itself, generally. I chose the timeline to be every five years because it was easy, and it didn't seem too far off the mark for the rise of each of these technologies - in some cases it's closer than others. Paradigm is intended to be a one word description of the fad, be it product or idea. 'why' attempts to explain how that fad fit into society, again in a word, and then who is done in two categories, generally did big or little companies make this happen / profit from this fad, and then specifically what companies they were.

The letters are for reference to be briefly discussed here:

a: this is what we're trying to find out
b: this word will help us figure out a
c: a "pattern" of 2 big, 2 little seems to have emerged. I'd call shenanigans, but it does seem likely that a big company will be winner of the next major fad - if it's either of the fads I'm going to identify in a moment.
d: looking at the history of companies, if it's big, we can take some guesses
e: two steps in the future is worth thinking about, but predictions a decade out are like shooting a pistol at the moon
f: following the 2 by 2 trend from before
g: these are the people we want to be, if the aforementioned trend is an actual thing

Now, the two things I can think of are related; they both focus on one answer to b. I think the next word will be 'whole', 'full', or 'all'. The idea is that cell phones do not do everything laptops and desktops do yet, and should. They perform an excellent subset of what we need, but the winners in the next 5 years (I think) will be the ones who complete the experience and give us full functionality through our phones. There are a few key things that need to happen:

Input and output will change drastically. Tiny buttons don't cut it, and maybe touch screens are the shit but I think voice, gesture, and projection will be reaching a point soon that they'll exceed even apple's multi-touch magic. Just watch Pranav Mistry go (ted talk; you've likely seen it).

Coding on phones is a perfect example of an everyday task that's kind of ludicrous, due to input and output, but also due to synchronization. It just isn't worth the effort to a user of making a workflow persist between a larger machine and a phone yet. This leads to the second key thing, I call it persistence. It would be great if people would call it this, because it gets across the concept really well: your workflow or session persists while you transit between devices. Email and some chat programs have this already - web browsing has got it in a patchy fashion, but the rest of the computing experience has to come along too.

Size (physical and disk space), bandwidth, and cost restraints are also still in the mix, but they are second to input/output and persistence. Google and Mozilla seem to have done the most work so far in persistence, and MIT has all the best work on projection input/output systems. Microsoft has the money to catch up, and Apple has sufficient investment that it will need to keep up. It's moved in this direction already by trying to create a more complete, and yet mobile experience with the iPad. Apple seems to believe the answer here is a new form factor - maybe they've got it, but I think they're too early. If you wanted to, you could look at persistence as the final advent of "the cloud". It's about time.

If correct, this will leave us in 2013-2015 with new input schemes, new output schemes, and a lot of power to play with. Cue little companies to rush in and do interesting things, causing the next fad of 2020.

This is just fun conjecture, but it suggests that small facebook-killers like diaspora or next-googlers will not become juggernauts of the industry any time soon -- though it certainly does not bar them from success. The listed companies were just the ones that got into huge dominant positions from exploiting the fad of the day.

It also suggests that the coolest and most important work of the next 3 years will be done in big companies working toward these fundamental gains, and the next 6 years after that will be building the foundations of what we need to use this stuff well, and doing cool 'world-of-tomorrow' shit with it.

I'm excited, are you?

edit: added a chart filled with my assumptions, for the sake of visualization: