One of the exciting things about the post-PC era market today is the fact that it’s still a young, emerging market forging ahead in often bold directions. The tablet, as a post-PC device, is not even two years old yet, and the landscape is already changing fast! So where are things going? What will the next few years mean for Android and for us as mobile device users? According to a study from Gartner, the five mega-trends that will mark the way we use technology in the future are consumerization, virtualization, cloud computing, app-ification, and the shift to mobile.
Clearly, the biggest trend will be the continuing shift of Android devices to normal consumer products rather than tech gadgets or business tools. People from every generation are starting to use post-PC devices. Kids are growing up using them and the older generations are embracing them. Android tablets are now available in supermarkets and chain stores, you can pick one up along with your weekly groceries!
As tablets become more pervasive, they become a standard platform for content delivery to consumers of all ages and all demographics. This continuing “consumerization” will change the way content producers (music, films, books, games, etc.) make, distrubute, and sell their products. It will also affect pricing. Most radically, we have seen this happening with the pricing of apps. Who thought that a company could thrive on games selling for just $0.99? It will take a long time, but the same will happen with films, books, and music. It will also happen with the actual devices themselves.
Before tablets and post-PC devices became the buzzwords of the tech industry, the big ticket item was virtualization, the technology that allows many independent virtual machines to run on a single piece of hardware. Of course, it wasn’t a new idea, but it was the consumerization and fulfillment of a vision that had started with IBM way back in the 70s. The key to virtualization is that software and hardware are no longer tied together.
So, what does this mean for my humble Android tablet or phone? What it means is that Android becomes a way to access processor intensive tasks which don’t run on the actual device, but the results are seen on the device. The best Android specific example of this concept is Amazon Silk, the web browsing service incorporated into the Kindle Fire. When a user browses the web, Amazon’s virtual servers grab the web pages, render them, and then send them down to the tablet. All the hard work happens on the remote servers, with the Fire taking the role of a view port.
Closely linked to virtualization is the cloud. The amount of digital content that each user is consuming is growing, and the trend is to store and manage this content away from the device and download it only when needed. This trend is set to continue, with every aspect of our digital lives being stored and managed online. The current solutions aren’t yet perfect. Storage is limited. Bandwidth can be a hampering factor and, of course, the worries over privacy are a constant issue. However, tablets don’t come with 2 TB hard drives, and, to truly function in a post-PC, the massive amounts of user-generated data needs to stored somewhere. Add in services related to the data stored (like photos, music etc) and you have the cloud. More storage, more services, greater expectations.
Combine virtualization and the cloud and you get a new way in which software programs, are designed, delivered, and consumed — in short, “the app.” Android devices tend to have small screens (compared to a PC) and less resources, so apps need to be designed accordingly. This move to the app, rather than to retail box suites (like Microsoft Office), is in itself a generator of innovation, with new ways to do complex tasks on a smaller screen being invented constantly. Remember those who said you could never do movie editing on a mobile device?
The final trend is the continuing shift to mobility — whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. With 3G and, now, 4G, Android devices are always fully connected, allowing users to continue their virtual life away from the PC. The biggest barrier to this shift is price. At home or at work, the Internet is generally unmetered and traffic unlimited. This isn’t yet true of 3G or 4G. This does limit what can be done when out and about. However, for those with enough money (for the monthly subscription), and in the right country (those with good 3G and 4G networks), there is little difference to using a Wi-Fi hotspot at home and using a data connection while away – everything is still there and still accessible.
The trends of how we use our Android (and other) devices aren’t based so much on the devices themselves but on the infrastructure around them. As these devices become true consumer items, and as users demand more services, the supporting infrastructure will grow and innovate to accommodate the demands. And as long as the service providers can make money, there will be innovation!