When I started in IT, I encountered a program called ‘The Last One’. It was a menu-driven application generator that allowed a non-programmer to specify the sort of system they wanted (within a limited range) and generate a BASIC program that would do the job. When it was first announced – and before any of us got to take a look at it – there was a little nervousness amongst the ranks of programmers, based on the advertising strapline for the program, that suggested the software was called ‘The Last One’ because it was the last program you would ever need to buy…
Which was, of course, utter rot.
I was reminded of it today after coming across this piece in which the bods at Google are predicting the end of the desktop computer. And the reason I was reminded was that the ‘The Last One’ story just went to show how bad IT pundits – and those in the industry – are at predicting the future. You see, the problem with predicting the future is that you have to make certain assumptions and extrapolations from today in to the future, and then work out consequences based on those assumptions. And if you get your assumptions of teh future wrong – or the assumptions of how the world works now – then it can all go horribly wrong. And that’s what’s happened to Google.
The demise of the desktop computer – to be replaced by iPads, Smartphones and similar mobile devices. Note that Google aren’t even suggesting that laptops and netbooks and their ilk will be delivering the goods – it’s all going to be a mobile wonderland. Now, short of some sort of high tech ‘Rapture’ occuring in December 2012 that whisks away all the computers we use in our homes and offices whilst leaving only mobile computing devices behind, I very much doubt that this is going to happen.
Google have mixed up predicting the future with what they (with their interest in mobile operating systems and desire to compete with Apple) want the future to be. A dangerous thing for a technology company to do. Whilst in Google’s idea world of media and search consumers everyone would be able to do what they need to do on some sort of mobile gizmo, those of us who work with computers for serious amounts of time each day will NOT be able to function with poxy little touchscreen keyboards or Blackberry QWERTY pads. Sorry guys, we need real sized keyboards which will be realistically associated with a decent sized screen and so will be at the very least a reasonably sized laptop – which we’ll sit on a desk and run from the mains.
Quite a few of us also like the idea of storing data locally – not in ‘The Cloud’ or on Google’s application servers – something that isn’t easy on many mobile devices right now.
Google – you’re wrong. Stop looking at the dreams of your own and other researchers, and start looking at how real people use computers – especially in their work. And make that the basis of any more crystal ball gazing.