802.11g Whiz

For a long time now, I've wanted to more deeply explore our fundamental relationship with technology. And so, since everyone is drooling with excitement this week because of Apple's new products, it struck me that now is the perfect time. More specifically, it's precisely the time because of Apple. 

For most of us, our relationship with technology starts with our relationship to media. And thanks (mostly) to Apple, we now consume a vast amount of media: 2 million movies, 200 million TV show episodes, 16 billion songs, 25 billion apps, & 100 million books. Why such high figures? Because our appetite for collecting and owning more/better/newer things has never abated. Go back no further than your own childhood for proof: kids in their youth that collected LP's, cassette tapes and CD's, matured into post-grads collecting DVD's and BluRay's and, nowadays, find themselves as adults curating digital rips of those discs. And, probably, of their friends' discs. And, perhaps, from those friends' disks and, increasingly, from total strangers. Never mind if it's illegal, though, because we're Americans, God-damnit, and we want to have or own EVERYTHING. 

Maybe I'm a typical consumer and maybe not, but I'll start with myself: at last calculation, I have 100GB of photos, 100GB of music, 268GB of movies, and about 180GB of TV shows. And, to consume that stuff, I have two iPods (the original and a nano), two iPhones (because I just can't part with the original), an iPad, a Macbook Air, a Mac Mini which is hooked up to my TV and, most-recently, a Mac Pro tower. Which means, by any reasonable definition that I'm utterly insane, right?!?

Well, not exactly (although my fiancee might disagree...). Turns out, we're all buying increasing numbers of computers, cellphones and gadgets each year. That's because the "problem" of having abundant data, has created a far more interesting question: shouldn't we be able to access  the data we desire in a way that's convenient, seamless, and effortless?

Hells, yes, friends. Hells, yes.

And, in a post-PC world, it's not a problem to claim that wanting to access media at different times and in different places requires... different devices. The real problem is that we don't have easily identifiable categories of devices. People are simple: give us something tangible that we can grasp (figuratively and, in this case, literally) and we'll buy a gazillion of your widgets.

And let's start by being honest about how we'll define our categories: since so many devices do the same kind of tasks — check email, browse the web, create various kinds of art work, etc. — I suggest instead that we define our categories based on where we put our devices, not what we do with them.
 Or, put another way, "how big is the screen"? Therefore, I humbly submit the following to start the conversation:

  1. living room devices
  2. desktop devices
  3. laptop devices
  4. handbag devices
  5. pocket devices
  6. wearable devices

Category #6: Wearable Devices

Wearable devices, simply put, are devices you don't have to hold with your hands that bring you closer to your data. It's also one of the emerging market of the future. And I'm not just saying that because Google is trying to pretend it's the latest fashion statement. It isn't, Sergey. Please. I'm saying that because wearable technology — the result of miniaturization — is allowing us to interact with our technology on a truly casual basis. If you wear a bluetooth headset or use your iPod nano as a watch, you understand what I'm saying. But here's where it gets fascinating, friends... As Ray Kurzweil and INTEL and others predict: the result of technology's miniaturization along with our never-ending thirst for more and more data will be the inevitable merging of human and machine. Which is to say: wearable tech will evolve into implanted tech. In fact, it already has. But hearing-aids, pacemakers and artificial hearts which are commonplace implants today are nothing compared to what's about to start happening. Right now, computer chips are being implanted in the eye, enabling the blind to see. Right now, there are machines we can control by thinking. Sweet fucking jesus, it's an amazing time to be alive, people.

Category #5: Pocket Devices

The pocket device is the smallest device that you hold in your hands to access your data. This is the category everyone is talking about this week, thanks to Apple and whatever new iPhone they'll be announcing. Which is curious to me because I don't think that Apple really "re-invented" the phone as Steve Jobs famously announced in 2007. What they DID re-invent, however, was the pocket device. For the first time, ever, that device in your pocket is truly a computer. Which is why, largely because of Apple (but not exclusively you Droid douches), that device you carry in your pocket now contains three or four episodes of "Breaking Bad", an advanced navigation and map system, every photo you've ever snapped of your two children, twenty to thirty of your favorite games, and a download of every Oprah Book Club recommendation. Oh, and it's also a phone. Go back in time just SIX years and someone would have laughed at you if you'd told them that you'd have all of this on your pocket device. Yeh, right. And soon, that same device will replace cash. Yes, I'm serious. 

Category #4: Handbag Devices

I define this category as those devices that are too big for a shirt pocket or for one hand. These are the devices that help make accessing data fun, interactive and readily available in many locations: on the bus and train; on the sofa, in the kitchen or in the bedroom; while at the office with co-workers or at a park with the kids... This category was defined and popularized by Apple with its iPad and was further cemented for consumers with the popularity of the Kindle, the Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy TabThis category is confusing for consumers because of the overwhelming number of options. But make no mistake: it is ALL one category. In my humble opinion (and others), Apple dominates this market and will only further pwn it when they offer an iPad-mini. And, since all of various-sized devices from all of these various companies do, essentially, the same tasks, the only real question the consumer needs to ask is: on how big a screen do I prefer to view my data when I'm not at my desk?

Category #3: Laptop Devices

These are devices that fit on your lap, and offer the most portable methods to do the most powerful computing. Not much to add to a category of devices that is already widely accepted and in use all over the world. Even if Apple or Samsung makes the slimmest model out there by removing the media tray and SATA hard drive, it's still a laptop computer.

Category #2: Desktop Devices
The most traditional and easily identifiable of all device categories, probably because it's been around the longest. ENIAC, considered the first computer when it was announced in 1946, filled an entire floor with its component parts. Even so, operators still sat a desk to run it. Today, super computers still fill large rooms, and the average computer who creates audio, video, film, graphics, and documents... usually sits at a desk. Although "standing desks" are growing in popularity these days as well.....

Category #1: Living Room Devices
This category of devices is still emerging but very, very exciting. I define it as those devices which fit most comfortably in the living room, because that's usually the room with the biggest god-damn screen you an muster. In this category, you'll find the XBOX, the Playstation, the Wii, the Roku & AppleTV and, increasingly, a full-fledged computer that acts as a media server. I have a Mac Mini hooked up to a 36" Hi-Def TV because the idea of an AppleTV or Roku box just seems... stupid to me. I'd rather have an entire computer connected to my biggest screen so that I can do whatever I'd normally do on my desktop or laptop computers. But the market is wide open here and, not surprisingly, many are looking to Apple to help define this category. But no one, and I mean no one, is more excited than Gene "My Last Name is a Cheese" Munster for Apple to finally announce a TV set, with with it's rumored "revolutionary" user interface. Full disclosure: I think Gene Munster looks like a former football player. 

So there you have it, kids. Six easily definable categories for the world of devices. But, as you've been such a lovely crowd, I'd like to offer a couple of bonus parting shots:

First, as the very electronic structure of our homes becomes "futurized", look to see a new category of devices in the not-too-distant future: home devices. Entire walls and counter tops will be used as video monitors and the home network will start to resemble, even more closely, the most complex enterprise networks of today. Expect the same for cars.

And, lastly, I really feel that one of the untapped aspects of the future is how all of these categories of devices will flow together. Currently, each of your devices in each of these categories operates independently of one another. There are a few bridge-like applications, but this is only the beginning. Soon, all devices will be inter-dependent: as you walk into your home on your phone, the call will transfer, seamlessly, onto your home network; documents that you're viewing on your pocket or handbag devices will be able to be "wiped" off one screen and onto another allowing you to use the new interface to continue viewing or working on your document.

Like I said before: it's a sweet time to be alive if you're in to tech. Let's hope this week brings us something truly wonderful.

On the road in Newark,
The Mac Dweeb