I lost my left contact density a few days ago. By the time I found it (sticking to the wall) it had dried up and deformed. As the days go by, we’re packing more and more technology into smaller and smaller spaces. In particular, the current slew of smartphones is taking technological density to all new levels. The newest phones like the iPhone 4 and the Nexus S contain as much computing power as my first desktop back in 2001 and the software running on them does much more interesting things than what I run on my first machines.
This great density has a number of interesting side effects, not all of which are acceptable to all people. For example, one consequence of packing so much power into a tiny package is that doing home repairs (or even changing the batteries) is not for the faint of heart and requires special tools and trailing. This makes a lot of people uncomfortable and for good reason. If you’re paying good money for a product, you want it to be under your control as much as possible (including being able to make repairs). Losing that ability and having to trust someone else with your computing experience should make you uncomfortable and think twice about what you’re paying for.
However thanks to increasing density we have the power of mobile. We are literally carrying networked supercomputers in our pockets which in turn opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Things like augmented reality, real-time translation and even more mundane things like just being able to get email and look up information whenever wherever are all very exciting and people are coming up with great applications every day. If there is one thing we can learn from the march of computer technology, it’s that people will apply and extend their technology in novel and imaginative ways. I think we’re only just at the beginning of seeing computer technology finally becoming ubiquitous and seamless.
We’re living in exciting times and of course there are challenges. Net neutrality, locked down platforms, a variety of competing devices, vendors and standards are all major issues that will continue to be around for a while to come. But in the long term, I think we’ll see these problems be addressed. The solutions won’t be perfect, but they will be enough to form a basis and foundation for the next generation of revolutionary technology. What will that next generation be? I have no idea (though I think biology will play a role).
So what happens between now and then? The same thing that’s happening right now. Our phones will keep getting smarter and companies like Google and Apple will continue pushing consumer technology to new limits. And as that incredibly dense technology gets pushed to millions of users, it will support a growing ecosystem of smaller applications doing really interesting things and bridging the gap between the virtual and physical worlds. We can see this trend in apps like Instagram, Four Square and a number of augmented reality and translation apps. And I think the best is yet to come.