In 2010 consumers bought more than 300 million smart phones--devices that include complete operating systems, and for which advanced software can be written--plus nearly 18 million tablet computers. (Meanwhile, more than 1.1 billion simpler phone handsets with text delivery capacity reached consumers around the world, mainly in poor countries.) "Every person on earth will be carrying a smart phone before long, and that's going to be making a lot of changes to everybody's life," says Monica Lam, a computer scientist at Stanford who specializes in mobile-computing research.
As I said at the KC bloggers forum, I still have one of those third-world phones, that only does phone calls and text messages. My point was that I am not buying into Tyler's stagnation hypothesis. He would say that "the future is here, and it turned out to be disappointing." I'm more with William Gibson, "the future is here, it's just not very evenly distributed."
The question everyone should be asking is, what will Arnold Kling buy when he rejoins the developed world? The answer will tell you the direction of technology and the future of entire industries. My thoughts are below the fold.
1. I can afford a smart phone and a tablet computer. The costs that concern me are (a) the infamous "data plan" and (b) learning a new user interface. The main potential benefits are....not clear enough to make me want to go up the learning curve.
2. I favor cloud storage over local storage. If I were to buy songs, for example, I would rather have them stored on a server so that I can access them on any device and not have to worry about transferring them from one device to another when the first device is lost, broken, or obsolete. I like Gmail because I do not need to worry about using "my" computer for email.
3. I like a real keyboard. I write a lot.
4. I like a large screen with large type. I am well over forty.
5. I once wrote that "the last mile will be wireless." I could go that way now. We used to justify our land line because it had separate power for when the electricity goes out, but now that is not true with fiber. All we get for cable is TV, which I could do without. Some folks in our household watch TV and so they like the cable. But I'm ready to sever all cable connections and go with cell service or Wi-Max. The Negroponte Switch says that we want wires to carry rich media, but I don't value rich media.
6. I also wrote (ten years ago!) that the ultimate interface would be a headset. You wear goggles that can show you any combination of the world in front of you and a world projected on a screen. You wear earphones that can give you any combination of the conversation near you or someone you would like to speak with long distance. More speculatively, your mouthpiece allows you to issue instructions, so you do away with pointing devices and gestures. Maybe you can even dictate more efficiently than you can type (that would be unlikely in my case). Consider that if you had this sort of headset, with high-speed wireless communication and lots of cloud storage, you could have all the functionality of today's computers and phones--even more.
7. I like to think that if something appeals to me, then it will pass the market test and continue to be supported. But I think a lot of people worry, perhaps rightly, about investing in consumer devices that are based on technology that becomes orphaned.
Steve Jobs is able to overcome that. So his ability to produce a hit product is kind of self-fulfilling. People know that his products will be good enough that people will want them, and this makes people feel secure about buying them. Bill Gates no longer has that going for him. Google could have it, but they need to get the Chrome/Android thing sorted out. Tech Review suggested that the Motorola Atrix 4G hybrid laptop/phone is nifty but then I looked up reviews on CNET, where the guy who reviewed the phone part loved Android and the guy who reviewed the laptop could not understand why they did not use Chrome. I'll bet that some rather uncivil discussions are taking place at Google headquarters these days about that issue.
8. I think I would buy a tablet computer (with a keyboard, in my case) before I would buy a smart phone. I'm willing to carry a totebag or wear a backpack in order to have it handy. For situations where I do not want to carry a tablet, I think I would be happy with earplugs and a mouthpiece, and whatever intelligence you can deliver to that via the cloud. So if I were inside those uncivil meetings at Google, I would be questioning the long-term value of Android and instead arguing for Chrome and for developing interfaces between the cloud and headsets.