Too Strong to be Weak

I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated by technology and how technologies are adopted by people. In the past I’ve written about the concepts of strong-specific and weak-general. These concepts are not mine (I wish they were). Instead they were originated by Bill Buxton who is currently a researcher at Microsoft Research. I first learned about Bill while reading a book called The Invisible Future: The Seamless Integration of Technology Into Everyday Life.

The reason for this momentary occurrence of awakedness (don’t know if this is a word) to the strong-specific and weak-general concepts was from an article I recently saw in FastCompany called Tracing the Evolution of Consumer Electronics. What’s Next? The article is really more of a set of family trees showing the apparent origin of certain products back in the days right after the primordial ooze. For example, the Kindle 2 traces back to the original days when, ahem, paper books and book presses were the hot thing…can you imagine that! There are many other interesting lineages for the iPhone, Blackberry, Wii/PS3/Xbox, and other devices.

The core question presented by this article is: will a single device ever unite them all? In my most humble opinion, NO FRIGGING WAY! I could be wrong on this and I’m sure there will be technological innovations that we can’t even conceive of or imagine today.

I have an iPhone (3 in fact), Kindle (2 in fact), iPods, netbooks, media center PCs, PS3, laptops, Macbook Air, Razr’s, PDAs, a drawer full of cellphones and smartphones (the graveyard of those that didn’t pass muster), digital picture frames, cordless telephones, LCD TVs, LCD monitors, other MP3 players that came and went, and I’m sure a few other devices that I’m forgetting.

I believe the primary reason for why we will ALWAYS possess an array of strong-specific devices and NO ONE device will do all of what the FastCompany article devices do is due to how we interact with the devices and applications on those devices. For example, the way we interact (and expect feedback and interaction with us) with a music player is very different than how we interact and expect interaction with our senses with a cellphone. Granted, while the iPhone is supposedly a convergence of these functions and an adaptive screen and UI will present the varying forms of interaction, I’m one of many that will state the iPhone isn’t much of a phone. If I wanted a real phone, I’d use my Razr. The iPhone is more of a weak-general device and we all know its weaknesses.

The size and Mobility Quotient are defining factors as well. If the size is larger than my cellphone (my Kindle for example) then I won’t be taking this everywhere with me so don’t bother putting music functionality (yes, it’s in the Experimental section) or voice calling into it. If the Mobility Quotient is high, then I will generally interact with it on an on-demand, “snacky” basis rather than a more dedicated, in-your-face manner as I am doing right now on my Air. While I can write this blog entry on my iPhone, only large doses of mind altering drugs will compel me to do that.

‘Nuf said. But am I all wrong on this? Can flexible or rollup displays create a truly useful weak-general, one-size-fits-all device? Can voice, gesture, or Vulcan Mindmeld new interaction models solve the “keyboard barrier” that so many devices suffer today? Are we headed towards a Nebulous Future, per the FastCompany article, where it’s not about singularly and vertically designed devices but rather a distribution of functions that collectively create the experience? For example, the compute and connectivity is always in my wristwatch, but depending on what I am intending on creating or consuming the connectivity may be vectored towards a large display or interaction modality that matches my “intention”. Who, what, or how will that “intention” be determined?

Who knows. For now, I’m just content to speculate about Apple’s tablet device being announced around CES…I MUST HAVE ONE!


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