Sunday, June 29, 2003

Saw this article on Tech Central Station by Arnold Kling about the diminishing role of software in a future of wirelessly connected devices.

He uses an interesting metaphor of centrifugal and centripetal forces. Centripital forces were at work in the personal computer age where the more integration the better in terms of price, performance and reliability. In the coming era, wireless communication will create centrifugal forces that will pull hardware apart into multiple components that talk to each other as needed. He also makes the point that the focus of our interaction will move from being document focussed (the Xerox legacy) to being transaction focussed.

While I agree with the above points, he also predicts that software will become commoditized in this new hardware focussed world. This I am not so sure about. I work for a company that feels the pain of hardware commodification. I do feel that hardware will gain renewed value as it solves more of the unique needs of users in the wireless world. But, I also feel that software will not diminish in value. There are still so many problems to be solved. How do people want to interact or transact in this new world of ad-hoc device communications? How do people want to interact with each other through the devices? How will security and copyrights be managed? How does one device create an appropriate interface for the services offered by another? These are tough problems that don't even begin to address the range of solutions that could be created for the variety of users (young, old, novice, expert, bad eyesight, etc.).

The centrifugal forces seem to be already in play as evidenced by the variety of forms being explored in cell phones, PDAs and portable AV devices. But, there seems to be plenty of work ahead for both hardware and software designers.

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