Saturday, 3 October 2009

Measuring Technological Affluence

Roughly a decade ago, Ian Nelson (@ianfnelson) proposed a measure of affluence for owners of computers and gadgets: count the number of devices with a CD player. The greater the number, the more affluent (and nerdy) you probably are.

This was an astute observation. At the time, games consoles and DVD players/recorders were proliferating, and it was becoming common to see households with more than one computer.

Times and technologies change, and the optical disc mechanism is fast disappearing, despite the emergence of HD content. Digital downloads are now cheap, legal and convenient, and the advent of the netbook has seen optical discs finally head the same way as the floppy disk.

So what to use as a new measure?

Connectivity Is King

Internet connectivity is perhaps the most compelling feature of any modern device, particularly for mobile gadgets. The Internet is becoming central to so many activities - social networking is a great example - and the wider availability of smart-phones and intelligent devices has transformed how we go online.

Using the Internet no longer means a planned visit to the spare room to power-up a PC (and make a cup of tea while waiting). Now, it's a more spontaneous, near-instant experience; pull out a smart-phone, wake it with the touch of a button, and hit an icon to go directly to a website.

I believe that this experience, once embedded in our lives, will strongly influence our future relationship with technology. The expectation will be that devices (including computers) can be turned on within a second or two, and that the battery will last at least a day or two. Cables and connectors will become too inconvenient. Anything with a lens or microphone must be able to transmit sounds, images and videos directly to a computer, or preferably directly to the Internet.

The enabling infrastructure already exists: wireless internet in homes and better coverage of mobile broadband provides the connectivity, it's now down to manufacturers to make the final step and incorporate wireless technology into their products. Premium goods will probably lead this evolution, with budget brands following as soon as the technology becomes cheap enough.

Applications Not Browsers

Internet browsers are not the software solution. We're already comfortable with applications on smart-phones which bypass the browser and provide direct access to mobile versions of web sites. The same idea could naturally extend to all digital devices; the simplicity of an application would be far more suitable for a digital camera than the generic desktop experience of a web browser.

The Challenge

Build Internet connectivity into every digital device, making sure to support the various protocols (802.11, Bluetooth, Wireless USB), and link with major hosting providers and social networks - YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter et al - to deliver a seamless digital upload experience.

How Affluent Are You?

So, how many wireless Internet connected devices can you count?

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