Musings on the Future of Digital Media – Hardware or Getting connected

Computer, Gedanken, Hardware, Medien, Netz, Software October 14th, 2010

Within the second part of my series on ideas regarding the future of digital media, i will try to take a deeper look on the hardware side of all things connected. In the first part, i have defined the internet as a digital universal transmission platform, which Kevin Kelly views as the ultimate machine mankind has ever built. Being connected to the ’net is imperative already and the pressure to be always on will become even stronger. But with what kind of device and for what purpose are we gonna be connected?

Classifying Devices

For the moment, four specific always connected device classes are to be defined:

  1. Phones
  2. Tablets
  3. Laptops
  4. Desktops

These four classes can be parallelized in parts by a categorization provided in this article by Mark Segal on O’Reilly Radar. He defines devices by their portability as

  1. Wearables
  2. Pocketables
  3. Bagables
  4. Portables

Wearables are smaller than phones – at least for the moment – and desktops no longer portable. Desktops could be considered as moveable. The less portable a device gets, less people will own one of these devices, as usage scenarios of Portables or Non-Portables will become more and more specialized.

According to Gartner, 1.2 billion mobile phones were sold in 2009. Compared to the 306 million computers (laptops and desktops combined), portability has already won by far over functionality, but the latter is moving fast into the former.

Individualization

Additional individualization of entertainment will be driven by devices like tablets. Everyone can view the content she or he wants to, alone or in the company of others. Enjoying togetherness when watching a movie will no longer be the norm as it was with the cinema or the TV. The TV-set as the main screen of the living room will loose it’s importance accordingly. Even more, considering the fact that the experience of watching a movie will rather be shared online and only afterwards discussed with the people around you. That means, even the function as the digital hub of modern home entertainment as promoted by Steve Jobs in 2001 will be lost by the TV-set.

Accordingly, the computer (laptop or desktop) and the TV-set share the same fate. They were built for being used by a group of people. All desktop-class operating systems accordingly have multiuser possibilities. This is not true for personal devices like a phone or a tablet. They are – at least for the moment – not considered to be used by more than one person. They therefore have no possibility to “create another user account” They don’t need another. They are hardware personalized. Based on this individualization, it is of utmost consequence to localize people by their phone, no longer by postal address. Changing the underlying media means changing the addressability of people. People are found no longer at their homes or work, but at their current location, even when moving. Everyone has to be considered the center of his very own universe.

Nomadisms

With the hardware being bound to the individualized user and the user being is own center of his universe, location gets irrelevant. This placelessness of the mobile hardware and the therefore implicated placelessness of it’s carrier will lead to the formation of a new kind of nomads solely based on information and communication. Since being connected means being connected to your friends, and everyone is equally spaced to everyone else within the context of the net, being somewhere equals being everywhere. These communication nomads will be counterinsurgents to the continuous building of nations and states, the one inherently placed, the other placeless.

Usage scenarios

As already stated, all functionality is trickling downwards into the mobile realm. For example video editing became very fast available on the iPhone with iMovie. Which functionality, which apps, will stay on these “biggest” device classes? The most specialized, like 3D-apps and scientific apps like Mathematica. And they are to stay. The reason to this lies not in the needed processing power – calculations can easily be moved into the cloud – but in the complex visualization of data, the greater need for detail and the need to access a multitude of functionality to manipulate this data.

I have disabled comments for this post. For discussion of this and the other two related articles, please head over to wbf2010.at. Reopened comments.