Watching the Twitter stream and blogosphere–you’d think there was only way way things go. We are converging, we are diverging, PCs are dead etc. Well a couple things I learned in my several decades of life that help me daily and as an analyst of events are: 1) Things change, but not as fast as you perceive them to and 2) everything isn’t black and white, there are shades of grey. This is especially important in technology. So I portend that while the types of devices we use are diverging, the uses of those devices, those applications are converging. What I mean is that we are moving away from having “specialized” devices for specific applications–broadcast on TVs, Web browsing on computers, voice communications on handhelds, for example. Moving forward, any and all of these applications will be done across any device, they are converging. As cloud services and streaming become the rule vs. the exception, it won’t matter, much, what device gets used, the content will adapt to any screen size, network or context. This does’t mean that everything works as well or the same on each device–that will never happen because of physical restrictions (screen size, entry type) but you will have access to any data on any device. So while the number of devices we use to access data increases, the types of applications and data no longer will be restricted by a specific device type.
People are debating the future of the PC today, and many use the example that mainframes are extinct, put there by PCs, so mobile devices will cause the same. True, mainframes aren’t the leading form factor of choice, but many older organizations that started with mainframes, still have some. Go look at hospitals, banks and many government agencies–they are still struggling with mainframe data, even though they have been adopting PCs and servers for the past 15-20 years. So this goes back to lesson one. Things change fast, but it will be decades, if ever, before PCs aren’t common in business anymore. There will always be niche uses, if not users, that will keep PCs around, just like mainframes are today. Not everything has to be done on a mobile device. Many thought smartphones would eliminate the PC, now they think tablets will do the same. It’s interesting that most business users didn’t replace their PC with a tablet or smartphone–they just got bigger bags to carry the extra devices around. And when we start regularly using kiosks, TVs and our refrigerator to access the Internet or our work or personal data, we will still have our other devices. That’s because depending on the context–the location, the network, the time we have to access, our applications–different devices work better for different types of data. That won’t ever change. Just because you can run computer aided design (CAD) on a smartphone today does’t mean you should. But it is true–that we won’t need high-end servers or PCs to run or access our CAD. We can do it from anywhere.
Another device to assess is the TV. TVs today have Internet access, browsers that can surf, get you your email etc. Do you really need a desktop at home anymore? Maybe, because most people see TV as a passive experience, at least when watching a show or event. Self-directing your show, picking camera angles, story lines etc just haven’t taken off on TVs because people just want to relax when in front of one. But people love to use their PCs for music and movie editing. PCs are declining for sure, but most homes will still keep one around for tasks they can’t or don’t want to do on other form factors.
So that brings me to lesson two, it’s not all black or white. I think rather than focussing on which form factor (eventually) dies, the focus should be more on how to access, secure, support and manage data across multiple platforms and do it the right way. Some people will use smartphones, others tablets, PCs, some servers and some will still hold on to mainframes. Some will need local storage and computing power, others move all to cloud. It isn’t just one thing–it’s many things. The more things fall apart, the more they fall together. The more they converge, the more they diverge. Sure there will always be cases of specializations–but in general, we add new devices, applications and access technologies–without ever fully leaving the legacy behind. Well at least for the next few decades. Anyone use a typewriter lately?