By Erik Christiansen
Where do tablets go from here? Is there much more innovating that can be done, or are we at a mature product stage? Will the tablet and laptop merge, bringing us full circle? These are questions I have been pondering following Apple's iPad and Mac announcement yesterday.
The new iPads looks great. Both the Mini and the iPad Air will not doubt be the best iPads thus far. They are thin, light, have great battery life, there are lots of apps available. The new hardware is better, and everything about it screams polish...
Google is also set to announce a new Nexus 10 at some point, and it's likely this will take place during its rumoured Nexus 5 phone launch on the 24th.
So, what else can be done? Each company, Apple, Google, and even Microsoft, have pretty good tablets now. They will be hard pressed to squeeze much more "revolutionary" technology into those thin cases for the foreseeable future. The same goes for smartphones. Moreover, each company has a pretty solid set of services. Apple has document collaboration with iWork and a host of excellent first party creativity apps. Google has Drive and Hangouts. Microsoft has Skydrive and Office 365.
In short, we are now in a mature post-pc era. This is a little shocking since the "post-pc" age didn't really start until the mid 2000s. But the speed advancements in computing power got us to maturity considerably faster than during the PC era. It's for this reason that these "devices" aren't really the future anymore. How we use the devices and connect to the Web, and the context we gain from it, will be the next revolution.
Back to the iPad and iPhone. These are great devices. But spec bumps are just ho-hum now. And it's not just Apple. Google and Microsoft suffer from the same problem. It's the sensors inside that will make a difference. Apple has invested heavily in iBeacon, which makes use of Bluetooth low energy to connect to the "internet of things." Google also has bluetooth low energy, but it remains unclear how it will make use of it. However, it has pioneered NFC, which is FINALLY beginning to take off.
What makes the internet of things more interesting, is the dependance on third parties to adopt the technology. At some point, even Apple will have to be less inward focused, and try to convince its partners to side with them rather than the competition. The downside of the current situation is that we might be entering a VHS vs. Betamax like war - except now it's Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) vs. NFC. (Perhaps a more accurate assessment is iBeacon vs. NFC). But does it have to be this way? Is there room for both technologies? Are they really competing for the same market?
To provide some examples, I can pay wirelessly with my credit card (via NFC), I can have my phone barcode scanned at Starbucks, I could pay through an intermediary such as Google Wallet or Amazon, just to name a few. It seems to me that there are distinct advantages in each. I will reveal my bias. I really like NFC. But, I like it because it's simple. Tapping a device against another device doesn't seem like a big deal (despite what Apple may think). It seems like there would be less room for error. Anyone can tap their card or phone against a payment machine. BLE seems better once it's set up - as it would make payments automatic without customer interaction - but the learning curve could be higher.
But, it's not as simple as outfitting every business with NFC and BLE. An important factor will be how consumers can make use of this data. If it's only beneficial to the merchant, then the internet of things will be reduced to a high-tech version of the grocery store club card. If people don't get any value from investing their time and energy, there will be little incentive to give away their data. Despite the success of fitness wearables, knowing how many steps I took in a day isn't very interesting. It becomes more compelling when I can find out how much time I spend in a particular aisle, or what establishments I visit and for how long. I want to be able to see correlations between weather and my travel habits, or what times I spend most idle in traffic. I want to be able to correlate what I buy to my search history - effectively reverse engineering advertising. I want to use this information to better understand my own behaviour.
So, who will be suited to deliver this data paradise? Apple is in a good position, as it has the largest pool of credit card numbers. But, Google has better services for contextualizing that information, and providing value to the user. Regardless of who the "victor" might be (perhaps there will be two) I hope all this data is put to uses beyond selling me more advertising.