We can now Tweet from the International Space Station and video chat from the top of Mt. Everest. We can report in real time the tragedies of war, civil unrest, and natural disasters. We can even play in a symphony orchestra while sitting in our bedroom.
In the past few years, the phrase "mobile computing" has taken on a whole new meaning. The ease with which we are able to access information and contribute to online communities is astounding. Watching this trend unfold has been pretty exciting.
We saw the trend take another interesting turn in October 2010 at Apple's "Back to the Mac" press conference. At first glance, it appears to be a relatively small turn, but I think it will prove to be significant.
Mac App Store
In the past, we've seen mobile computing solutions attempt to imitate its desktop brethren. At "Back to the Mac," Apple reversed that approach by announcing that it will open an App Store for Mac OS laptop and desktop computers. It goes without saying that Apple's App Store has been hugely successful and has revolutionized the way mobile software is distributed. Apple hopes to duplicate this success with their Mac App Store. It will be a standalone app like iTunes and will have all the same functionality and layout as the App Store for iOS.
Launchpad (Home screen) for the Mac
With the iPad, Apple took a huge step towards making computing truly mobile by giving us an interface that was intuitive enough for my grandmother to use without any coaching from her grandson. That intuitive interface will make its way to the Mac when Apple's new Lion OS is available in the summer of 2011. The new OS will add a "Launchpad" layer to the existing user interface that will resemble the iPad's Home screen. Clicking on the Launchpad icon will bring up a full-screen display of all the apps on your Mac. With the swipe of a finger on your Mac's track pad, you'll be able to rearrange apps or move to additional screens of apps.
On the iPad and iPhone, apps are displayed on the entire screen without distracting interface elements present. These full-screen apps give you a more immersive experience, as anyone who's used an iPad will tell you. That same experience will be available on the Mac when OS X Lion is released. You'll be able to display an app in full-screen view with a click of the mouse and switch to another full-screen app with the swipe of your finger across the Mac's trackpad.
Last but not least, the new Mac has enable FaceTime on all of its computers. This means that Mac users will be able to video chat with iPhone, iPod touch, and other Mac users. Of course, the Macs will have to have cameras for the video to work. Right now the new FaceTime for Mac is still in beta, and it may merge with iChat in the near feature. It doesn't make a lot of sense to have two venues for video chat through Apple's platforms.
The shape of things to come
In the next few years, as we leave the Industrial Revolution further and further behind, the lines between work and play, home and office, will continue to be blurred. Technology like the iPad and the preferences of a generation that's grown up on the Internet will play a big role in this change, and its impact on society will be transformative. Winston Churchill said, "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." It's true for technology too.
Technologies to make mobile computing more accessible are now making their way back to desktop and laptop computers. As they become more accessible, more people will participate in and contribute to this evolution. And though it's not always obvious, the digital landscape we are creating and the technologies we build to interact with it are fundamentally changing us.
The Industrial Revolution put tremendous pressure on the environment, and with hindsight, it's easy to see its design flaws. Once again, technological advances are driving us forward into the unknown. Time will tell how this digital revolution will challenge us and our environment.