I’ve recently been reading more and more analysts clamoring to find new hyperbole about the way new and coming technology will change the face of the Internet and computing. Web enabled TVs, smartphones and tablet computers are all being heralded as being on the cusp of revolutionizing the way we interact with computers and information. I’ve heard claims that SEO will be dead in two years and that the traditional ecommerce site is a thing of the past. If you listen to certain people the face of computing is going to be unrecognizable in a few short years….
Except it isn’t.
I’m sorry to be pessimistic, but this really isn’t an industry that likes change. Sure new ideas and refinements are brought on board, however big changers are viewed with a sense of irrelevant amusement. We have the technology to have immersive interfaces, to whoosh through virtual metaphores in 3D, controlled by how we move, where we look or even what we’re thinking, but we don’t. Instead we control a pointer with a movement sensor on a wire, first developed by Xerox 40 years ago, and we click on a button in the bottom left of the screen to bring up a menu. Heck, we’re still hitting keys laid out in a pattern designed to deliberately slow typists down so that Victorian typewriters wouldn’t jam! We’re not dealing with a market that likes anything too unfamiliar, just look at how Microsoft’s ribbon interface in Office was received – people are still complaining about how it’s different it is, how they don’t like it, not because of how it does work, but because it doesn’t work like what came before. IT departments are refusing to upgrade to a now two year old version of Office not for any technological reason, but because the costs of training users on something new is so high.
Faced with a new piece of technology, people’s reaction is almost universally to use it like an old piece of technology. Hand someone an iPad for the first time and all they will do is fire up a browser and go to Google. Sure there are refinements – people can use speech to search because it’s so awkward to type on a phone screen that’s only twice the width of your thumb and people tend to fill their iDevice up with apps that are thinly veiled RSS readers because mobile browsers and mobile sites tend to be tiresome to check regularly – but on the whole what they do and how they do it changes very little.
Technology will always have it’s early adopters who drive progress, and while those people may increasingly be buying the technology as a lifestyle accessory, they’re still pretty rare and the changes take time to trickle down to everyone else. The facial recognition software that tags their friends in photos of a night out is still working on the same concepts that awkward teenagers with head up displays from MIT were using to help recognise people and remind them of names, birthdays and what they last spoke about 15 years ago. The fact that you can use a browser on your Internet connected TV might be a lot more useable now that the typical home has a connection you can watch a film in acceptable quality without waiting a week for it to download, but I don’t think it’s going to revolutionise peoples habits and usage patterns any more than the ill fated WebTV browser did the best part of a decade ago.
I’m convinced that people’s interaction with technology is evolving, I think it’s a very exciting time watching many things that were once exclusive to enthusiasts and the very busy / rich trickle down to become common (if you’d shown me an Android phone back in the late ninties when I was lusting after the first of Nokia’s communicators, I’d not have belived such wonders were possible in my lifetime. Tell me however that people still used a qwerty keyboard on it to send the same emails and text messages we were then with such a magical item and I’d probably have cried.) We’re tending to buy a greater quantity of more specilized items and use them in new ways, but what we’re in the middle of I think is just that – evolution, not a revolution. Don’t throw away your search engine and web browser, I think you’ll be using them for a while yet…