This is personal computing

on human-centered personal computing

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

In my last post, I wrote:

So if there’s a major transition this industry needs to go through, it’s the shift from a box-centered view of personal computers, to a human-centered view of personal computing.

Folks, it’s 2012. I shouldn’t even have to say this, right? We all know that personal computing has undergone a radical redefinition, and is no longer something that can be delivered on a single device. Instead, personal computing is defined by a person’s path through a complex melange of physical, social and information contexts, mediated by a dynamic collection of portable, fixed and embedded digital devices and connected services.

‘Personal computing’ is what happens when you live your life in the connected world.

‘Human-centered’ means the central concern of personal technology is enabling benefits and value for people in their lives, across that messy, diverse range of devices, services, media and contexts. Note well, this is not the same as ‘customer-centered’ or ‘user-centered’, because customer and user are words that refer to individual products made by individual companies. Humans live in the diverse ecosystem of the connected world.

If you haven’t made the shift from designing PCs, phones and tablets to enabling human-centered personal computing, you’d better get going.


a word about this ‘post-PC’ notion

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Lately we have seen a spate of pronouncements from industry executives, analysts & pundits about the so-called ‘post-PC’ era. Now, I completely understand the competitive, editorial and PR value of declaring The Next New Thing. But in using the term ‘post-PC’, these nominal thought leaders are making a faulty generalization and committing a category error in order to serve up a simplistic, attention-getting headline.

The faulty generalization is obvious. We’re no more ‘post-PC’ than we are ‘post-radio’, ‘post-book’, or ‘post-friends’. Are new devices and software platforms displacing some usage of desktop and notebook PCs? Of course. Are some companies going to rise and fall as a result? Sure, but are we witnessing the demise of PCs as a product category? Not even close.

Of more concern to me is the category error inherent in ‘post-PC’ thinking. ‘Post-PC’ is a narrative about boxes: PC-shaped boxes being superseded by phone- and tablet-shaped boxes. It’s understandable, since most PC, phone and tablet companies define and structure themselves around the boxes they produce; analysts count boxes and reviewers write articles about the latest boxes. But people who buy and use these devices don’t want boxes per se; they want to listen to music, play games, connect with friends, find someplace to eat, write some code or get their work done, whenever and wherever and on whatever device it makes the most sense to do so. This ‘post-PC’ notion is disconnected from the real value that people are seeking from their investment in technology products.

So if there’s a major transition this industry needs to go through, it’s the shift from a box-centered view of personal computers, to a human-centered view of personal computing. If I was running a PC company, that’s the technical, operational and cultural transformation I’d be driving in my every waking moment.

Ozzie to MSFT execs: you’re doomed kthxbye

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010


I paraphrase, obviously. But seriously, did you read Ray Ozzie’s Dawn of a New Day? It’s his manifesto for the post-PC era, and a poignant farewell letter to Microsoft executives as he unwinds himself from the company. In Ozzie’s post, frequent readers of this space will recognize what I’ve been calling ‘the new revolution in personal computing’, the rise of a connected world of mobile, embedded and ubiquitous devices, services, sensors & actuators, and contextual transmedia; a physical, social, immersive Internet of People, Places & Things.

“All these new services will be cloud-centric ‘continuous services’ built in a way that we can all rely upon.  As such, cloud computing will become pervasive for developers and IT – a shift that’ll catalyze the transformation of infrastructure, systems & business processes across all major organizations worldwide.  And all these new services will work hand-in-hand with an unimaginably fascinating world of devices-to-come.  Today’s PC’s, phones & pads are just the very beginning; we’ll see decades to come of incredible innovation from which will emerge all sorts of ‘connected companions’ that we’ll wear, we’ll carry, we’ll use on our desks & walls and the environment all around us.  Service-connected devices going far beyond just the ‘screen, keyboard and mouse’:  humanly-natural ‘conscious’ devices that’ll see, recognize, hear & listen to you and what’s around you, that’ll feel your touch and gestures and movement, that’ll detect your proximity to others; that’ll sense your location, direction, altitude, temperature, heartbeat & health.”

– Ray Ozzie, Dawn of a New Day

Frankly, there’s nothing especially surprising about this vision of the future; many of us (including Gates and Ozzie) have been working toward similar ideas for at least 20 years. Former HP Labs head Joel Birnbaum was predicting a world of appliance/utility computing (pdf) in the ’90s. I’m sure that many of these ideas are actively being researched in Microsoft’s own labs.

What I find really interesting is that Ozzie is speaking to (and for) Microsoft, one of the largest companies in tech and also the one company that stands to be most transformed and disrupted by the future he describes. He’s giving them a wake-up call, and letting them know that no matter how disruptive the last 5 years may have seemed to the core Windows and Office franchises, despite the wrenching transition to a web-centric world, the future is here and you ain’t seen nothing yet.

And now at “the dawn of a new day – the sun having now arisen on a world of continuous services and connected devices”, Ray Ozzie is riding off into the sunset. I don’t see how that can be interpreted as a good sign.

(photo credit: WIRED)

the new revolution in personal computing

Friday, February 19th, 2010

One of our core themes for the connected world, is that we are living through an unprecedented confluence of new technologies that unleashes innovation and fundamentally transforms industries. In keeping with this view, in the last few months we have seen a tremendous wave of new technology products and developments from a wide range of companies. Taken separately, many of these announcements are significant and a few are game-changing, not so unusual for our industry. However, when viewed collectively they add up to nothing less than a new revolution in personal computing.

Innovation is happening at every level of personal systems, from processor architecture and devices to social media and advertising. The very idea of a personal system is broadening rapidly to encompass mobile, embedded and cloud systems, identity, context and the physical world.

In core hardware, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon platform garnered significant design wins at HP, Google and many others, while Apple has developed their own ARM-based A4 system on a chip. Nvidia also apparently gained support for their new Tegra2 mobile processor.

In system software, Google released the open source Chromium OS while their Android platform continued to gather design wins. Microsoft announced a completely redesigned Windows Phone 7 OS, Intel and Nokia merged Moblin and Maemo into the MeeGo linux platform, Symbian3 launched, and Apple extended their iPhone OS to a major new platform.

In devices, Apple announced the iPad, Google jumped into the hardware business with the Nexus One, HP and others previewed tablet PCs, and a stack of new E-readers launched from Barnes & Noble, Hearst, Plastic Logic, and more.

Application ecosystems continued to heat up as Apple’s AppStore crossed 100,000 apps and 3 billion downloads. Intel introduced the AppUp store for netbooks, and a broad consortium of carriers and device makers launched the oddly named Wholesale Applications Community for mobile apps.

The social media frenzy continued unabated, with Facebook hitting 400 million users (third in country population behind China and India!), Twitter passing 1 billion tweets per month, and Google’s Buzz launching like a rocket with millions of users before running into a buzzsaw of criticism for their tone-deaf approach to privacy and usability. A recent analysis showed Facebook driving more traffic to major web destinations than Google, signalling a dramatic shift from organic search to friend recommendations for finding information online.

Google acquired AdMob while Apple bought Quattro Wireless, pointing to a major battle for mobile advertising as well as a very provocative business model play for Apple.

Mobile social location-based gamers Foursquare, a favorite of the early-adopter tribe, inked deals with major media properties including Bravo TV, Conde Nast’s Lucky Magazine, Zagat guides, HBO, Warner and the New York Times.

The race to capture, index and augment the physical world further intensified. Microsoft’s Bing Maps and Google’s Street View each showed major new features, including integrating users’ photographs seamlessly into their visual canvases. Street View now has capture operations in 30 countries on 6 continents, and they are managing a fast-growing multi-petabyte store of image and lidar data (1 PB = 1 million GB). Meanwhile NYC startup Everyscape raised $6M from SK Telecom to expand their real-world capture into Asia, and SF-based Earthmine opened their high-resolution 3D city point cloud database to developers.

Google also released Goggles, a mobile app for Android devices that provides visual recognition, identification, OCR and search for physical world objects such as books, products, and landmarks. Nokia began a pilot of their mobile Point & Find service with bus shelter advertising in Colchester UK. Augmented reality startup Layar added $3.4M in funding and a global mobile phone distribution deal, signalling growing commercial interest in overlaying the real world with digital media and experiences.

In the realm of open innovation we saw grass-roots networks mount a groundswell of response to the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. Open source platform Ushahidi, mapping and geoweb experts from Open Street Map, and hackers at worldwide self-organizing Crisis Camps provided tools and expertise to support a wide range of relief efforts on the ground in Port au Prince.

Lastly, in two fascinating signs that the future is upon us, HP announced that it was getting into 3D printers through a deal with Stratasys, while San Diego outfit Organovo announced the first commercial 3D bio-printer for manufacturing human tissue and organs. It really doesn’t get much more personal than that.

In the 40-plus years since Douglas Engelbart created the mother of all demos, the personal computer has fundamentally transformed the way we work, play, create, communicate, shop, learn and live. Now we find ourselves at the cusp of a new revolution, where personal computing is no longer synonymous with the personal computer. The new personal computing is mobile, embedded, networked, virtual, social, contextual, wearable and physical. And it’s here. Are you ready?