Jaimes Nel explores nine characteristics of the devices and platforms we’re all using day-to-day that indicate that “post-pc” is a service-centric model
At Live|work we like to pull apart fashionable ideas and of late we’ve been thinking about the term “post-pc” – a term that has been doing the rounds in the tech world. It refers to a world of user-centred, highly portable and highly connected devices such as smart phones and tablets. Steve Jobs famously used the phrase to describe Apple’s iOS platform offering when he launched the second iPad iteration.
A quick scan of tech blogs reveals that “post-pc” is encountering as much ridicule as “web2.0” suffered in it’s day. We feel, however, that just because this term is overused it does not mean that it doesn’t point to something interesting and infact that it may reveal insight into the way we should design services.
We have outlined nine characteristics of the devices and platforms we’re all using day-to-day that indicate that “post-pc” is a service-centric model. These nine points can help us to think about designing services that excel in a post-pc world. In a lot of ways, we’ve been waiting for many of these for a long time and are really excited about leveraging these platforms for incredible services.
This list is not comprehensive and not all of them will hold true in every situation and at every time, but they’re worth thinking about as foundational principles when designing post-pc services.
The first three points all relate to something that we always talk about as a core component of a service – that they are (or should be) intensely personal. These three points all demonstrate how post-pc is intrinsically related to the personal.
1. Do it any way you want
The first point is the age-old chestnut – personalisation. The post-pc world makes personalisation about more than just how things look by making it incredibly easy to choose how you interact with services. These are devices that interact with a rich-world of services and we get to choose how we interact with them. These could be through native applications or via other applications and services. It’s never been easier to construct an entire ecology of services to get what we want in the way we want it.
2. Contextual shortcuts
Post-pc devices mean we carry an abundance of sensors and preference data around with us. All this data can be used to bring an incredible level of context awareness to service interactions. Whether it’s where we are located, our stored preferences or the signalling of a specific intent by choosing a particular application, we can arrive at a service encounter with a lot of the legwork already done – meaning we can design quicker and smoother interactions.
3. Trusted proxy for identity
Post-pc devices can be used to positively identify individuals with a relatively high level of security. They are physically available at all times, are unique to the individual, are linked with powerful identifying services through operators, App store id’s or banks, and are able to leverage password authentication or SMS verification. In a sense, our mobile devices can stand as proxies for our identity. No need for the dystopian vision of an ID chip embedded in our bodies, if we are committed to carrying a device with such a chip at all times.
Google Maps, HSBC Banking App and The National Rail Journey Planner all know enough about you to help you get the job done
The next three observations all point to what is unique about the actual experience of interacting with post-pc devices and services.
4. Many, small experiences
Post-pc devices excel at small, targeted interactions, done frequently rather than for extended periods of time. Interactions with these devices are highly atomised.
We carry them in our pockets or bags all day, and are able to use them surreptitiously in any situation. People are able to respond to most situations almost immediately with an available mobile device.
This, combined with the fact that they are small, means that interactions with a mobile device are frequently compact and to the point. Whilst this will almost certainly change as they become more capable, for many interactions this is in fact ideal. Think of things like sending a quick email or tweet, checking a map when leaving the Tube, on-the-fly price checking in a store or capturing a new idea or task to your to-do list.
These interactions are ideally suited for an immediate response to a single, targeted need. We might make 10, 20, 50 of these interactions in a day. These are highly atomised interactions compared with sitting at a computer over the course of several hours.
The interaction is broken out of a relationship with a fixed time and place and freed to plug in to our actual lives (although of course we might not always think of this as freedom!). This is possible because interactions become highly specific, requiring small, regular interventions, rather than continuous use.
5. Swiss-army knife of computing
Whilst with personal computers, we’re used to machines being capable of many tasks, with portable devices we’re not. Post-pc devices bring this potential to accomplish just about any task to almost any situation we find ourselves in, because they’re mobile computing devices. Most of us now carry a device with us that is capable of performing complex tasks and interacting with the world around us. We now bring a computer with us when we go to the kitchen, to work and when we climb on the bus. Ubiquitous computing is a reality.
6. On-demand computing
Thanks to post-pc being an ecology model, rather than a device model, the post-pc user is able to immediately adapt to any given situation by simply adding new tools to her Swiss-army knife at the point of need.
When we encounter a new situation, it’s possible to download an interface for that specific situation right then and there and use a dedicated device for that interaction. We can always adapt to the situation at hand. This is probably the most theoretical of our points as there isn’t necessarily an app available for every situation, however the point is that if you are designing the experience you can make complex interactions available to every participant.
Facebook, Ebay and RHS Gardening App all enable you to adapt to a specific situation
7. Extends the computing power of other objects
The post-pc device in your pocket has more computing power than NASA had available to put the first men on the moon. These devices change the long-held image of ubiquitous computing as your toaster with a computer in it. There’s no need to put a computer in toasters, fridges, musical equipment or point of sales equipment. These other objects can simply supply the right mechanics for the situation at hand and leverage ubiquitously available post-pc devices for computing power.
This doesn’t mean these other objects don’t change – they just don’t necessarily get smarter. Instead they get better at measuring their own contributions and feeding the data to the post-pc device.
8. Brings a tall friend
Actually, it’s best not to think of any one element as the post-pc device. The computing device, the ecology of connected objects and the networked services they all connect to are the components of a post-pc ecology.
An incredibly key part of this ecology is the data-rich, always on, highly networked services that feed data to the device. The connection to payment services, social networks, data storage, processing services and a myriad of other services add huge weight to the power of post-pc devices. The sum is a lot more than just what sits in your hand.
9. Ubiquitous means no assumptions
The last point is somewhat of a caveat with regards to the previous point. The fact that post-pc devices rely so heavily on connection to powerful networks can be one of their weakest points. Designs for this model should be able to leverage the power of networks, even where such networks aren’t currently available. This may mean duplication of data, pre-caching whilst connected to the network or just smart ways of failing gracefully, but elegant design for this paradigm needs to recognise that each element of the post-pc ecology must be able to operate independently of the others as well as powerfully together.
Barclays Cycle Hire App, Audi Car Data App and the Streetcar Booking App all add computing to other devices providing you with access to new networked services
Taken individually, each of these nine points represent an intriguing aspect of contemporary technology. Taken together, you start to see the shape of a meaningful phenomenon emerging. Post-pc may not be the best term for what we are seeing (“post” anything always betrays transition). This phenomenon may well have started with the laptop and the web, long before smartphones and tablets. However the rise of these devices and the ever increasing interconnection of data services is what may well come to define it. As services are increasingly designed for the post-pc era, these characteristics will help us to build propositions that face towards the emerging model.