A couple weeks ago, Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz wrote an article called “What’s next in computing.” He talks about the product cycle of technology as opposed to the financial cycle. It’s well worth a read if you’re interested in this topic. Marc Cendella (@cenedella) called it a “Landmark Blog Post”.
Chris lays out 3 distinct eras in computing, each with it’s own basic platform. These are:
The PC era, which begins in the 80s with the introduction of personal computers.
The Internet era, beginning in the mid-90s where the most interesting applications began to live on the internet and the browser.
The mobile era, beginning with the introduction of the modern smartphone around the 2007.
Because we are almost 10 years into the mobile era, it is time to ask “what’s next?”. Each computing platform so far has contained the seeds to its successor. Therefore it might be possible to make some predictions.
It is important to point out that there may not be a successor. It is possible that this type of cycle has ended. It is also possible that the next era will contain many different themes and will be tough to pin down to a single phrase. It certainly looks that way when you consider the diversity of computing applications coming our way. We’re looking at everything from the improvements in machine learning to the proliferation of consumer wearables. We are headed towards a world of augmented reality, drones, connected homes, autonomous vehicles, and blockchains.
But after much of this comes to pass, we may look back and find an overall theme that describes the basic way in which we will interact with our technology in this next cycle. Today I am going to make the case for one possibility which I call “passive computing”.
I see passive computing as primarily a change in how think about input and output between our devices and our senses. We’re used to using our hands in order to call up information when we need it, and getting a visual response on a screen. Over the next decade, we are going to find – and are already starting to find – that there are much more natural ways of working, playing, and communicating electronically.
This could be voice, this could be gesture, this could be augmented reality or simply servers anticipating your needs before you have them. The trick is that different types of interaction are going to be more natural in different circumstances. Getting it to be seamless and smooth is going to take not just a lot engineering power, but many iterations of product design through trial and error.
I’m very much open to a better name. At first, I was going to call this “hands-free computing,” but I kept thinking of a cheesy infomercial for a cheap headset. What I’m thinking about is the type of computing and internet access that doesn’t involve pulling out a device, logging in, or otherwise disrupting your life.
Over the next couple of days on this blog, I’m going to consider some aspects of how this might look. Many of the examples I will give are described in Chris Dixon’s article, but what I’m going to do is try to fit it all into the theme of passive computing.