Desktop computing will be dead by the end of the decade and laptops will be following shortly after. That was the view of Graham Brown-Martin of Handheld Learning in an entertaining presentation at day two of the EIEF.
Brown-Martin’s vision is that computing will migrate to a new breed of portable, hand held devices that make use of cheap, high-bandwidth Internet connections to access data stored remotely on Net-based servers.
The drivers behind this change include the impracticality of desktop-based computers for our changing lifestyles and the rise of home entertainment technology, which will include many of the functions now present in computers.
The coming of HDTV coupled with the rapid uptake of digital TV and the growth of alternative modes of accessing TV (there are on average, 4-5 screens capable of accessing TV in every UK home) mean that the uptake of high-bandwidth broadband services could be extremely quick bringing access to an userbase well beyond just computer users.
The other side of the proposition is high capacity storage. We all create gigabytes of digital stuff with our collections of MP3’s, pictures and games but not everyone is at the cutting edge of data backups and archiving. Enter online data warehousing services such as streamload.com, who are providing gigabytes of cheap (and in some cases free) online storage where you can dump your data and access it from any Internet device.
Brown-Martin’s position is that we are no longer 20th century factory workers. We are mobile. All our stuff can be accessed in one location in cyberspace, assuming the media is scalable and interoperable. This model is the backbone of successful Web 2.0 companies such as Mp3 tunes, Skype, MySpace and YouTube.
As an illustration of this, and of his extremely cool mobile phone, Brown-Martin demonstrated a home made remix of the Snakes on a Plane teaser, edited with a mobile and a Macbook. The result was uploaded directly to YouTube from the phone then downloaded again (wirelessly) using a Nokia Internet tablet.
Readers of Digital-Lifestyles are no strangers to this kind of digital dabbling but there are issues to be overcome. As Brown-Martin conceded, there are privacy issues, what happens when the government comes along and demands to access all Streamload’s stored data?
Fast connections are only half the communications issue. For these to be effective enough to allow true access from anywhere, they have to be ubiquitous. We already have a plethora of mobile devices but most of our fast connections are fixed. Meaning that we are all still fighting over desk space, wall sockets and power points (as the general lack of power sockets at the EIEF venue amply illustrated). True mobile computing will require blanket wireless access in major towns and cities and on public transport, services that are still in their infancy just now.
On a more mundane level, what happens if we decide to shift our data from one provider to another, the digital equivalent of moving house? Even with a fast connection, downloading gigabytes of data and uploading to another provider is just too painful a process to contemplate.
Brown-Martin proposed that there must be some way to allow linking from one online provider to another so that we can allow access to our own content repositories without having to physically copy data. This kind of slick, server-based functionality is the kind of service that will be the killer app for Brown-Martin’s vision of mobile computing. With that, all your data shelved in secured and permanently accessible online storage and a permanent high-speed broadband link you’ll wonder why you ever bothered with all that grey box malarkey!