iPad: Reflections of things to come?
While many critics are discussing the iPad’s lack of design and originality, I’ve come to another conclusion about this device and its ultimate vision. Jobs has always been a visionary among computing technologies. This device may seem unoriginal on the surface, but the one question that must be asked, “Is this device the first salvo to the death of the PC?” As much as you might consider that this is a PC, I believe that this device and its form factor may be the future of thin computing (like it or not).
Some technologists predict that wireless technologies and broadband connections will get to the speed threshold that will render hard drives obsolete. There is some merit to this argument. Indeed, once the network speeds exceed hard drive speeds, what then is the need for the hard drive? So, why keep your data on flaky devices prone to failure? This is especially true when there’s plenty of cloud storage that can protect your data from loss.
With that in mind, once we unburden the computer from unstable storage technologies (ignoring the ramifications to Western Digital and Seagate), the need for portable always-connected devices like the iPad become amazingly clear.
The iPad is still firmly tied to storage technologies, albeit sans hard drive. Instead, it uses flash storage. Flash storage is silent and probably longer lasting than unstable mechanical drives. Flash can be placed into footprints that can make devices very small. As the size of flash memory increases and their subsequent footprint decreases, this memory offers unprecedented size possibilities. While the iPad is a clumsy design, one thing is clear… it may yet become the first viable cloud computing device.
This is the prediction from technologists that spell doom and gloom to the likes of Microsoft and Apple. Well, at least doom and gloom to the operating systems we know and love. With cloud computing, no longer will we have the need for local storage. Instead, all of our files will exist on servers in the cloud. Indeed, when broadband technologies get to gigabit speeds, it will far exceed the speed of slow, mechanical, loud and unreliable hard drive technologies. Flash storage will become the defacto standard for temporary local storage. With always-on computing at every place around the globe at gigabit speeds, there will be no need to for the hard drive. This means your files will always be online.
We are already heading in that direction rapidly. With sites like Flickr and Picasa, you can store all of your photos online. With Last.fm, you can listen to just about any music you want. With Hulu, you can watch all of the TV that you want. These are all perfect examples of cloud computing. With always-on cloud computing, you will eventually have access to anything you need immediately. For example, you want to watch a movie released to the theaters last Friday? Tune in and you’re watching.
The immediacy of any data you can possibly want will usher in cloud computing and possibly spell death to the PC.
With the release of devices like the iPad and other solid state tablet devices, it’s clear we’re moving towards cloud computing. We just need our Internet speeds to become much faster. Data security issues need to be fully addressed, yes. Were cloud computing to become the defacto standard, and I believe it has a strong chance of that, smaller thinner devices with thin client softwares (lightweight operating systems) may spell the end to the likes of Windows and Mac OS X (at least for consumer devices). With thin client computing, devices can become very thin, sleek and very fast. Instead of shuttling around small SD cards from device to device, each consumer device will include a thin client to upload videos and audios directly to the cloud.
The immediacy of such consumer data will also user in a new wave of news reporting. An earthquake in Haiti? Cloud computing will ensure images appear on the web immediately by cloud users.
How do the business models work?
That’s dependent on businesses. With Google positioning itself as being the leader in cloud computing, it has already a substantial leap over other slow barge companies like Microsoft. Oracle’s Larry Ellison had predicted cloud computing years ago. While his prediction was years early and no where near ready for primetime, his prediction may actually be coming into reality.
Clearly, the hard drive will never go away entirely. Cloud computing requires massive data centers with lots of spindles holding data somewhere. So, the burden of storage will be firmly placed onto companies like Google. So, while consumer devices become smaller, more compact and offer cloud computing, business’ data centers will still require larger computers with hefty storage systems (the data has to exist somewhere). So, while thin computer may become commonplace in years to come for consumers, data centers will still be firmly entrenched in larger numbers of computers and the then fastest storage technologies. So, while Seagate and Western Digital may no longer be household words for consumers, they will still have a huge presence in the back ends that run the clouds.
Where we are now
Our Internet is still far too slow to be of real use in cloud computing today and, thus, not really ready for thin computing yet. But, as technology progresses, we will see much faster Internet speeds in the future. This will allow for always-on wireless anywhere computing. As devices become more portable and connected, it is inevitable that consumer technology become dumber to take advantage of remote storage. Right now, I see cloud computing as at least 10-20 years out for true viability. However, I believe that in hindsight, the iPad and iPod touch may be seen as the ‘father’ of thin computing devices.
Local Storage / Death of Windows?
For better or worse, thin client computing is coming. No longer will we need bloated operating systems like Windows. Once the immediacy of cloud storage becomes apparent, users will rapidly see the convenience of being able to get their files anywhere at anytime. Local storage traps your data in one computer that you only have access to at limited times. Cloud computing allows you to store your data in omnipresent storage that can be accessed 24/7 from anywhere. More than this, software as a service (SaaS) will ensure apps on the web rather than the need to be installed locally.
Standardized thin client computers will offer throw-away computers. Computers that, when broken, are simply tossed and you purchase another. No need to worry, “Oh, I’ve lost all my files”. Just simply buy a new thin client, login and all your files are immediately there. This is convenience and hassle-free computing at its simplest.
The iPad may be a considered a failure in our current local computing mentality, but it may actually be the perfect computer to usher in cloud computing. It just needs to overcome some hurdles like lack of Flash and Silverlight.
There may yet be method to Steve Jobs’ madness.