Having been the resident Mac fanboy for a number of years you would expect that I would have nothing nice to say about Amazon’s Kindle Fire, but you would be wrong.
I have had a bit of an epiphany of late, specifically regarding the future of tablets and how they will fit into our overall computing experience.
Lucky for us fanboys Amazon has created a device that could possibly be even more locked down that the Apple ecosystem. Hell even if it isn’t, the point of the Fire is to provide an access point to Amazon’s content services, which includes ebooks, movies, TV and music, so if you bought a Fire and it was more locked down that you would expect from an Android tablet you hardly have room to complain.
The most important part of the Fire is not its form factor (hardly exciting) or its operating system. One: it is designed to be a true cloud-based tablet where everything you have bought from Amazon is accessible as long as you have a network connection and two: it is dirt cheap.
Pricing the Fire at $200 is a stroke of genius as it will very effectively segment the market into three groups of people. Those that want a true multi-purpose tablet (and they will mostly buy iPads), those who will buy the Fire (because it is cheap and connected to the Amazon service), those that will buy a tablet because it is cheap (as in cheaper than the Fire) and finally those that will shell out above the odds to buy an Android tablet because they can’t bring themselves to buy an iPad.
The one thing that got me thinking, however, wasn’t anything that any vendor has released over the past year, but rather a rather engaging piece of pulpy science fiction I read.
The books are from “Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper” by Nathan Lowell and you can listen to the free audiobook version of them on Podiobooks.com.
However, part of the shipboard life detailed in the books is that most of the interaction with the ship’s systems happens via a tablet. The tablet is not described but it is clear to me that if you were expected to have this tablet on you 24/7 then a 10” tablet would be impractical.
This ties into my view of how our computing experience will change over the next few years. I think we could do it now but practically it will probably take 10 years for this to happen.
The core of our computing experience will be a portable device, either a smartphone or tablet. The desktop and the notebook will be dead and instead we will have a device that will be able to drive an HD TV, a monitor and keyboard or simply operate in stand-alone form for when you are on the move. The device will know when it is in range of an authorised display and offer you a range of options for how you would like to compute. Want a touch interface on a screen? Done. Want a full desktop computing experience for some heavy lifting or a long days work? Done. Want to watch your move on the HDTV? Done. All of it driven from a single device that smart enough to know where your data is (local, on the network or in the cloud) and able to deliver that media to the display of your choice.
You see the computing paradigm of the future is not about the device. Its about the display. Your smartphone could theoretically be powering a dumb tablet display, rather than having to buy a tablet and a smartphone and a notebook.
There are clues to this all around, look at apps like Airvideo on iOS where you can stream your video to your iPad almost seamlessly. Look at the Kindle service (spotlighted with the Fire) where you can start watching the video on your tablet and finish watching it on the HDTV.
The thing is all the building blocks are already there. What we need is the portable compute power to deliver the service (and I think we are getting pretty close) and the operating systems that can seamlessly switch from a tablet environment to a desktop environment (and I think Windows 8 might be the first big step in that direction).
In fact, I think the biggest hurdle will not be hardware or software, it will be battery life and the only way I think we can get around this is the massive deployment of a standards-based inductive charging technology.
Imagine that almost every surface that you put your phone down on (and I mean any phone) is a charging station. Your desk, your car, your coffee table. So it is less an issue of remembering to charge your phone, but rather an issue of remembering to take your phone out of your pocket or handbag when you get to a flat surface.
When it comes to tablets I think we are seeing glimpses of the future today, better voice control, better media integration and the ability for operating systems to perform in both desktop and tablet mode. We still have some way to go, but Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are showing the path forward.