March 20, 2012

The End of Big Ideas?

Gates said in the early 90's there would be a computer in every home, connected to the internet (others said that too). The mainstream didn't believe it, and the press was skeptical, but it was easy to see that costs would come down, experiences would improve, and there would be more software to serve needs.

The web enabled anything to be connected to anything or anyone. Open APIs enabled developers to build anything that talking to anything else. Node.js (or any other web/application server) could be ported to devices, or embedded, so now any device can host applications.

Handheld computers were envisioned in the 50's (or before), and showed up in Star Trek. In 2001, I got the first Handspring--a derivative of the Palm Pilot, but better. Soon after they came out with a "cell phone module" that enabled connectivity to the web, phone calls, etc, at gawdawfully slow speeds. But it took the vision of simplicity and elegance before everyone simply had to have one, in the form of an iPhone, Blackberry, or Windows mobile, which never took off.

And then Google dropped Android on the world, and it's now the fastest growing mobile OS.

And now tablets--attempted before but failing because of the insistence of OS vendors to put a PC OS in the form factor, when Jobs said no, let's augment the phone instead of cramming down a Mac OS into a tablet form factor.

For most of us, the operating system started to disappear, with apps the only thing.

The power of computers rocketed through the 2000s, such that significant increases in performance were no longer perceptible to most people--the bottleneck was somewhere else. It just became easy to do just about anything.

Apps were no longer about compilation, mostly; that's handled by the browser, and yes, you have to compile native smartphone apps, but native is going away for most apps because of layers like PhoneGap.

So now it's all about text--writing text, storing text, displaying text (even with images with base64).

We have open source hardware platforms like Arduino. We have apps for just about anything. Yes, there are still dragons to slay, but they seem smaller, and more and more apps are about the little inconveniences.

Modern multitouch rocked our worlds when it was shown by the NYU grad Jeff Han and then popularized by Apple, who bought the Delaware company Fingerworks to add it to the iPhone.

There's a lot more coming, because now everything is programmatically possible.

The big hurdles seem to be with bureacracy. Healthcare technology is highly proprietary, too expensive, and highly fragmented. It's like enterprise software in the early 90's.

Developing nations are largely skipping a PC phase and jumping to cellphones, but not smartphones; cells are becoming more and more like smartphones. Someone, somewhere will release an android cell phone that costs $20, democratizing access and power in a way never seen before.

So now that we're all connected in real time, can build anything, can track everything, can see anything anywhere in real time, make anything with our personal 3-D printers,  and everyone of us can build our own systems like legos, make our own movies and produce high-quality audio, and we Elan is taking us to the Moon again, what is the next wave?

What's next? Just incremental improvements to already amazing stuff? Or is there another sea change possible?

Of course there is. Someone sees it.