I can’t predict the future, nobody can… but I think betting on the future is a good intellectual workout. It forces you to think beyond your day-to-day activities.
In 2012, I bet $100 with Greg Linden that by 2015, tablets would have replaced PCs. Greg wrote an analysis of the outcome but the short story is that I lost.
What is a PC? We did not define it back in 2012, but I think we should, just to clarify. You have a screen, a physical keyboard… and, typically, a Microsoft operating system coupled with an Intel processor.
I hoped in 2012 that tablets would somehow find a way to supplant PCs in the office. I did not know how it might happen, but I hoped. Tablets haven’t managed it. I think that tablets have had their chance.
The big story in the last three years was neither PCs or tablets, but smartphones… They have gotten huge and extremely powerful. Let us review the specifications of the latest Samsung phone: 2560 x 1440 pixels, 4GB of RAM, 8-core processor. Though we can’t compare a phone with a PC, it does feel like smartphones from today could give PCs from 2012 a run for their money. In 2016, nobody cares for PC software. Not even Microsoft I think. If your app does not work on mobile, it is broken, period. I even had to reconfigure my blog so that it looks nice on mobile… The managers I know all work from their smartphones. I have not seen a manager carry a laptop in a long time. I am told that everybody owns a smartphone.
I was wrong, but I don’t think I was wrong in the sense that I overestimated the rate of change. I mispredicted the direction of the change. I could not imagine smartphones getting so big and powerful… I could have imagined millions of refugees roaming the Earth due to a terrible civil war in Syria… but I could not have imagined, only three years ago, that most refugees in 2015 would carry smartphones. I feel that the change was as drastic as I imagined it, but in a way that I could not foresee.
I still think that the PC is falling off a cliff. There is lots of inertia, but with everything available on the cloud and through mobile apps, most people would be better served by something other than a PC. I feel that betting again for the demise of the PC would be boring: though I did not win my bet, the PC is effectively irrelevant today.
My interest has moved to forms of interactions. What holds us back to the PC is the keyboard. There is simply not a good substitute for the keyboard right now. We could do away with the monitors. We could do away with Microsoft Windows and Intel processors… But we are still shackled to the keyboard.
Voice and gesture recognition is probably the future for most people. I still fill out paper forms weekly, even though it is thoroughly obsolete technology. I think that in 10 years (circa 2025) the keyboard will be similarly obsolete.
In any case, I will be donating $100 to Wikipedia. Greg had decided to match my donation even though he won the bet. That’s very gracious of him.