A Brief History of the Future
In 1991, Mark Weiser of Xerox PARC wrote an article for Scientific American titled The Computer for the 21st Century (PDF link here). Arguably the father of ubiquitous computing, Weiser predicted a future of computing characterized by an ecosystem of mobile screen-based devices that would seamlessly communicate with one another. In such a system, we would distribute our computation across multiple devices, effortlessly tossing content and activity between them, continually renegotiating these devices and the spaces they occupy based on our changing needs, tasks and contexts.
Weiser’s vision included three device classes, segmented based on their size and intended use. “Boards” would be large screen devices perhaps three feet to a side, “Pads” would approximate the size of a sheet of paper, and “Tabs” would feature a small screen at the scale of a Post-It note. Rather than interacting with a single computer (the dominant interactive paradigm at the dawn of the 90s), Weiser predicted that we would interact with tens or hundreds of these computational devices throughout the day, switching between them depending on activity and context.
Today’s Emerging Device Ecosystem
When we consider the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, as well as the new touchscreen iPod nano, it is clear that Weiser was quite accurate when he predicted that we would soon live amongst an ecosystem of mobile screen-based computational devices. Not everything has turned out as he planned, however. There is no widely-available “Board”-sized touchscreen device, and the “seamless” distribution of content and activity between these devices is certainly wanting.
As Apple fleshes out its lineup of iOS (and iOS-inspired) devices, bigger with the iPad and smaller with the iPod nano, it begs the question of what the future holds as these devices get better at communicating and collaborating with one another, and what new uses and contexts emerge as a result of this proliferation of form factors.
What would a near-future iPod nano look like?
The current iteration of the touchscreen iPod nano is impressive, but what really sparked conversation here at Adaptive Path is what the near-future of this device might look like. Upcoming iterations could potentially be outfitted with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, natively run iOS (rather than an interactive layer that feels like iOS), and ultimately allow users to install apps.
The small screen makes the iPod nano impractical as a device for consuming video, but it offers an interesting extension of the conventional wallet photo. The camera of the previous iPod nano has sadly been eliminated, and text entry into the device would be challenging given its tiny screen, but the multi-touch screen and accelerometer (and potentially a future gyroscope) could open up some interesting possibilities for control or input. The square screen offers a unique symmetry and looseness of orientation that invites design experimentation.
The Wearable, Fashionable nano
With its bright screen and clip-on design, the iPod nano extends the role of the “device as fashion accessory” beyond that of white earbuds and the iPod Shuffle, and the opportunity to “wear” one’s own album art offers a new level of personal expressiveness. Further, the tiny, wearable form factor of the new nano offers a level of unobtrusiveness that is absent from the iPhone and iPod Touch. Hipsters everywhere can now carry their ripped collection of LPs without shoving a device into the tiny pockets of their skinny jeans.
Which isn’t entirely true, because hipsters carry tape players, not iPods.
Connecting and Extending the Device Ecosystem
Short-range wireless communication would allow nearby iPod nanos to communicate with one another in a manner similar to that of Siftables, and the configuration and reconfiguration of multiple nanos could offer a form of play for all those kids these days with their technologies and Facebooks and Beibers. With wireless functionality your iPod nano could also offer a real-world, local access point into your online identity (or, sure, your Ping profile) through an iPhone or iPad app.
The iPod nano already has a radio, which allows what we jokingly refer to as “live podcasting” and “wireless audio streaming.” The radio could also be used to pick up low-power broadcasts from other nearby devices, making the nano a great output device for a remote baby monitor, intercom, thermometer or weather station.
Further alternative uses for the iPod nano could include: bedside clock, alarm, kitchen timer, stopwatch, tiny picture frame, die (as in dice), sketch pad, fake eye (great for pirates), fake fingerprint, bicycle light, and smart car key.
Finally, a future version of the iPod nano that runs iOS and allows user-installed apps would be a great platform for our Charmr concept!