Moving Towards An Online World

As more and more of our life propagates onto the web, what will the technologies of the future really look like?

“I want it all, and I want it” – together?

Lets overcome the first stumbling block. If everything from you email to you children’s birthday party pictures are online, where do you focus you attention‘s? Who will be your guide? What will be the front end to your digital world?

Up until fairly recently, the only way I found I could cope with the variety of sites hosting the information I needed was to work with multiple tabs in FireFox. Its not the best solution but it just worked. I had my Microsoft Exchange work web mail on one tab, calendar on another, a rss content reader (feed reader) on another e.t.c.

The solution that I have adopted now is Google ig, a personalized, web 2.0, ajazified start page. From here you can add ‘widgets’; Small web applets or applications that allow you to, for instance, access your online calendar, to do list, utube video’s, all in one place. This is what brings the content together and this is where the companies vying for our attention should ultimately be focusing their attention. You see, the wealth of information and opportunity that the Internet brings us is not only its most valuable asset, its also its biggest downfall. What good is information when you have no way of accessing it easily? What good is it if you have to log in to 10 different that many critics think that it could become a websites every day just to access what is important to you? This is where the battle ground of the future will be.

Up until recently google has been having its own way with the customized web page but more and more contenders are popping up daily. Even the mighty Facebook.com is getting in on the act offering such a customisable API that many critics think it may even be a google beater!

My Life Online

I must admit that I am in google’s corner for most of the web applications I mention in this article. Not because I have some vested interest in them, not because I get any benefit apart from the services they provide, but because their solutions are what I feel to be the best on offer at the moment. For instance, as a family, we use google’s calendar application to ‘keep in sync’ with each other. No longer do I have to phone my wife to ask if we have an engagement this coming weekend, I can easily access her calendar online and providing she has kept it up-to-date, I can see whats planned and visa-versa. This is especially helpful when at a moments notice I get a request to be in a certain place at a certain time and sometimes in a different country.

Another web 2.0 application I find myself increasingly using is Facebook. Now I admit that I’m passed my formal education days but Facebook is great for keeping in touch with friends, colleagues, old acquaintances, in fact anyone and everyone seems to be on Facebook now-a-days so the chances are that if you lost a phone number, you can regain it here.

Online Media

Another aspect of my online world is media sharing. I share photo’s with many of my family members as logistically we are seperated by a significant distance. It’s much easier to supply a family member with a url to the latest holiday photo’s than to develop and post the physical photo’s themselves. To do this I use Picassa.

There are many more examples of media sharing sites. Utube makes it easy to share videos; podcasts such as diggnation and the TWIT network offerings are so much more entertaining when you see the guys doing it on video or even live via Ustream, and music can be shared via applications such as Orb. The web is towards a more content driven medium and sites like these are beginning to reap the rewards as people become reliant on their services.

When is Online not Online

Its all very well living in a ever connected world but what happens when you can’t be online for whatever reason? Again, google comes to the rescue. Google Gears is a project to enable online content, offline.

This may seem gimmicky at first but if your stop and think about it for a little while, you may realise that it provides a very powerful experience and one that is most definitely the future.

In the long term, an Internet connection may be ubiquitous and the need for services such as google gears would be irrelevant but in the short term, as the world catches up to our online demands, we need a solution. Online applications such as google docs and spreadsheets, calendar and mail would be so much better if you could access them offline. For example, compose a mail while your on the plane and have it send when you next have an online connection; write a document that sync’s when you find an open access point e.t.c the list goes on. Online is the future but the infrastructure isn’t there just yet so this could well be the answer.

Just to balance the pro-google emphasis, the Firefox browser is tailoring itself to allow more online/offline content in its 3.0 release. Dave Camp is working on integrating an offline UI and backend to enable the same functionality as google gears does, right in one of the biggest growing browsers available today.

Access to the information

As a web tablet and UMPC advocate, where does this all fit in? Well, if all our information is online, will we all be carrying around laptops in 10 years time? I think not.

Small devices that can be carried in the pocket or small bag will be all the rage just as mobile phones are today. Its not difficult to see. Just look at the ever increase convergence of the mobile phone and personal computer; dubbed the smart phone. This is a device that lets you access your online/offline information on a small hand-held phone. It gives you the power of a small computer but conversely has shortfalls that up until now, only laptops could solve. A small LCD screen, lack of mainstream operating system, and lack of horse power have led the current crop of smart phones down the path to oblivion.

There are some great devices on the market but I would hazard a guess that most people that carry a smart phone today also carry a laptop or other device when push comes to shove. One device is needed to converge our digital world.


So whats the answer? What will we all be carrying and using the most in 10 years time? Will it be the ‘Bill Gates vision of the future’ tablet pc? Will it be in the ever increasingly popular UMPC? Or will it be the underpowered and somewhat flaky Internet Tablet? My money’s on a combination of the 3.

At the moment I feel that the UMPC has become the closest solution. Its philosophy seems to be to try to shoe-horn as powerful a PC as possible into the smallest enclosure you can manage but this will not solve the complete problem.

The majority of our time in the future will be accessing information. In fact we will have so much information to digest, it will be difficult to decipher what to ‘take in’ and what to ‘throw away’. That’s where our UMPC/Tablet PC will be become our most valuable digital friend. It will sort out what information we need to see and what can be forgotten about but of course human intervention will be needed, but not as much as is needed today.

The Internet Tablet, especially the offerings from Nokia, are converging with the UMPC to bring us this ideal device. While the Microsoft Windows UMPC offerings seem to be bogged down with trying to be PC’s, the Internet tablets on the other hand seem to be striving to be more powerful while struggling to do the most relevant tasks at hand, that is, access ALL off the Internet in a satisfying way.

As a consumer I would love to see a device that is somewhere in the middle. An offering along the lines of the Nokia N800, with a more powerful processor, that can handle all the Internet has to offer and can give me all that a laptop can, in a form-factor that can easily be carried around.

Is this too much to ask? I don’t believe so. If fact, I would go as far to say that some lucky researcher at an unknown company has this very device in their hands, just waiting to release it if the funding is there!

Watch this space.


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