Amazing to try to visualise events like Consumer Electronics Show, CES, without Bill Gates doing the keynote, yet as was widely billed his presentation this year was his last as a Microsoft employee. It was interesting to hear him say that as we enter the second decade of digital use the focus shifts from device convergence to becoming people centric (can you have people and machine convergence?). Whilst this is not exactly new, see my own post on the topic, it is a very profound change and one that we really have to accept as a whole environmental concept to be able to really understand the use, and value, of any single new element. Bill concentrated on some aspects, but the main one that interested me was his comments on how people will interact with devices, what he called ‘natural interfaces’.
This interests me because if you consider new interfaces, such as Wii, the physical translation of your movements into what is happening on the display, or even voice recognition, in terms of the current generation of technology, or more particularly IT systems, it’s easy to dismiss this as not needed and hype. But this misses the key point, this is not all about IT as we understand the definition of IT today, but about a new generation of applications, or more correctly services, that support how we work and play. For these new ‘things’ the current generation of interfacing, primarily by some form of mouse, is not good enough. Why? Because it’s about people interacting with people and events, maybe content and media, not people interacting, or more correctly transacting, with applications and computing.
We need richness about how we can interact, and flexibility about when, and where, in terms of devices, and location, that quite simply has never been called for before. That’s the whole point that Bill was making, and that people as consumers are grasping this, sooner and faster than any IT department simply because they need to do so, but the IT department doesn’t. Why? Because the IT department role in supporting the applications and computers in use in the enterprise today quite simply means that they have no need of such capabilities. So measuring the new interfacing technologies against the current IT environment encourages the belief that this can all be dismissed. Welcome to the world of Wang office automation in the late 80s, why would anyone need a PC to achieve word processing, email, etc? Because the entire environment shifted from data processing to personal computing, or IT as we know it today, and in that context a centralised mini computer based solution didn’t fit even if its direct functionality was fine.
So my contention is that we cannot wholly ignore this, even if we work at the heart of the IT department, because if our users decide that they want to change the way that they are using technology to support the way they both work and play, then it’s going to happen. And we will have to start to design new solutions to support users – the people centric solutions – and that brings us back into the need for new interfaces. Okay, but how do you practically cross this gap, which in reality probably means supporting the Microsoft based corporate interface of Windows? Tucked away in the Bill Gates speech and on the Microsoft stand is a possible answer; and it’s not that new, Microsoft has been developing it for a couple of years but now you can download it to supplement or enhance a standard Windows interface.
Welcome to ‘Origami’ which was also shown at CES last year as part of the drive to supporting a wider range of smaller devices by using new interfacing. Well, it’s now a really neat, and very fluid, way to make use of the wide, and getting wider, range of services, communities, media types and collaboration formats. Most important of all it can be downloaded free for users to try, or maybe I should say, give themselves a rich interface for their personal use over the top of the corporate IT environment that doesn’t call for it. You can download it here, and when you are using it, don’t forget to reflect on the new business markets that are being created by the availability of these technologies in consumer’s hands. Take a look at my post for an example of missing a whole market by not grasping this principle. During Bill’s presentation it was casually mentioned that the market for Mobile advertising that didn’t exist three years ago is now worth 11 billion dollars in 2007, kind of makes the point I made in the earlier blog piece even more powerful.