I was honored to have been invited to present at XD Forum, Intuit's internal user experience design conference, last week. My half-hour talk focused on the relationship between ubicomp devices and services, a topic I've been evolving for much of the past year. The presentation's argument is as follows:
- Moore's Law makes computation cheap.
- This makes incorporating information processing into devices a cost-effective way to create a competitive advantage by creating user experiences that would be otherwise impossible, or prohibitively expensive.
- This, in turn, has contributed to a proliferation of computer form factors in the last couple of years (laptops, then phones, then connected TVs and netbooks) that shows an increasing specialization in computer-based devices. This, I feel, represent the early stages of a trend that will lead to high degrees of specialization in devices that use information processing, and the end of the general-purpose computer.
- Simultaneously, we're entering an era of Widgetization, where large blobs of monolithic functionality (think "productivity software suite") are similarly fragmenting into clusters of network-connected widgets.
- Some of these widgets exist as software (as in Yahoo's connected TV widgets), but some (think Nike+iPod) as hardware.
- These widgets don't just output information that's generated in the cloud, but provide input into the cloud.
- This round trip between simple input widget, simple output widget, and processing and networking between them, creates profoundly new possibilities. Socially complex functionality is made possible through mashups between simple data collection devices and the technologies of the internet. Think about how a single sensor on the Nike+iPod, when mashed up with online analytics and social networks, creates a much richer experience than that same sensor in an unconnected pedometer.
- This round-trip sensing-processing-outputting cycle leads to a fundamental erosion of what we consider to be an object and what we think of as a service. Vitality's Glowcaps are a prime example.
- Objects now become representatives, avatars, of services. Like mobile phones and ATMs are useless without the network they're attached to, so to will many other devices have a physical presence and will function without a network, but without the cloud they will not have any value.
- This relationship now leads to deep questions about ownership, and in how we distinguish between service providers, manufacturers, and brands.
Download the whole 814K PDF presentation if you want to see the pictures and read the details.