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Products Reveal Computer Trends

June 7, 2013

In my reading about new computer products, I’ve noticed changes that seem to reveal trends.  I wonder if these products are leading or following the change.  In any case, the trends seem quite evident.

My own experience is with a desktop computer with a keyboard and a mouse, and multiple screens, one for each project.  I’m quite happy with it.  I know how to type.  I do use a Palm PDA for my personal calendar and my shopping list.  Other than that, I have no use for a mobile device.  However, I do read about trends to tablets and phones, and changes within them, at web sites like OS News.

In general, the trend is toward simplified computing for the mass market, where people treat the computer as an appliance.  This direction leads to a single user device with a single screen, running proprietary software.  Applications can only be obtained from the vendor’s application store.  They use digital signing to ensure that the application has not been tampered with.  The end result is full control of the device by the vendor.  Doing it this way means that security is entirely the responsibility of the vendor.

Of course, mobile devices have smaller screens than desktop computers.  This means that mobile devices will display less information on their screens.  There’s also a trend towards more pictures and less text, so that they will display even less information.  Simplification also means eliminating many facilities present on desktops.  The keyboard is gone.  Most people can’t type anyway.  By reducing the need to type information, the keyboard becomes unnecessary.  If it’s ever needed, an on-screen keyboard will do.  The mouse is gone too.  That’s replaced by a touch-sensitive screen.  Sure, there’s some loss of precision, but proper design of the applications will make precision unnecessary too.  For the mass market, these trends do seem to be correct.

Menus seem to be on the way out.  In an office environment, people quickly become attached to icons on their desktop, ignoring the menus completely.   This approach has limitations, however.  There’s only space on the desktop for a small number of icons.  They  also are hidden behind application windows, particularly if you have more than one window displayed at the same time.  The solution for a mobile device seems to be to fill the screen with icons, and then allow only one application to run at a time.  You’d have to close that application to see the icons again.

I also see a trend to eliminate hierachies of data.  It’s certainly true that people prefer a flat structure.  If all of the items fit on the screen, you can select the one you want by clicking on it or touching it.  A search might work too, except that then you would have to type in the search terms.  Eliminating the need to type is another trend.  Unfortunately, once the number of items becomes large enough, you need some sort of structure to organize them.  It could be a hierarchy.  The problem with these is with who determines the categories.  Often there are several ways to do this.  The categories that somebody else has chosen may not agree with the ones I might have chosen.  One way around this problem is to define multiple hierarchies based on tags associated with each item.  That design may make navigation easier.  The other part is to ensure that such a hierarchy can be navigated without the need to type anything.  I suspect that the data organization problem has not been fully solved yet.

Eliminating the need to type also means eliminating the web browser as we know it; you won’t need to type in URLs anymore.  Instead, you just select an application.  It will start up a web browser behind the scene, and display the company’s web page for you.  Along with this trend, mobile devices need to be constantly connected to the Internet.  All of the applications will require an Internet connection.

I’ve also noticed more trends from the way that web sites are advertized.  Punctuation has been eliminated.  Domain names are all letters, typically composed of a series of words joined together without spaces.  The “http://’ prefix is gone.  Subdomains are gone.  Slashes are gone.  Only the “.COM” suffix remains to indicate that it’s a web site.  Still, of course, you have to type that long name into your web browser, and remember it, to get to the web site.  The next step is to eliminate that as well.  Just scan in a bar code with your mobile device and the web site will pop up.  That’s the future.

These are the trends that I’ve discerned from the features of new computing products, along with some logical extensions that I’ve made.  Maybe I’m right.  Maybe I’m wrong.  We’ll soon see.

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