In fact, for many, change is here already, and many of us are not happy about it. Walt Mossberg, a Steve Jobs favorite, and formerly of The Wall Street Journal, is retiring from his weekly column about technology. His parting consideration is about change. The computer is disappearing.
Mossberg’s sign-off piece says the computer is disappearing; that technology was once always in our way, but sometime soon, technology will be almost invisible. Meh. As if humans could build invisible robots. Few people have a perspective about modern technology that matches Mossberg. He used technology and he wrote about technology.
The biggest hardware and software arrival since the iPad in 2010 has been Amazon’s Echo voice-controlled intelligent speaker, powered by its Alexa software assistant. It arrived in 2015, and was followed last year by the similar Google Home device. I expect others.
No, Uncle Walt is wrong. That same year Apple launched Watch. Neither Amazon nor Apple will admit to how many Echo devices or Watches have been sold to day, but if guesstimates are even close to accuracy– and neither Apple nor Amazon are denying them– Watch outsells Echo by about 10 to 1.
Siri on Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Watch can do most of what Echo does with ease, and quite a bit more, including the very simple act of going where you and your device goes. That makes Siri more valuable to Apple and 1-billion customers than Amazon’s Echo is to a few million customers who are finding out that Amazon uses Echo to pilfer or cull personal information to help form a user profile which can be implemented in such a way as to sell more goods to the aforementioned user.
That’s revolutionary? No. It should be cause for a revolution.
OK, I have two things of consideration, and the first is obvious; and where Mossberg is wrong. The computer is not disappearing so much as it is showing up in more devices as, well, a connected computer. Mac? It’s a personal computer right? How is iPhone not a PC? If so, then iPad, too, right? Siri becomes merely the face, or, rather, the voice, of our devices which have not and are not likely to disappear any time soon.
The second consideration is Mossberg’s assertion that Amazon’s Echo is the most important new technology since the iPad in 2010. No. Not hardly. What Amazon’s Echo and Alexa does is not revolutionary. Google Assistant is similar and resides on more than 1-billion smartphones and tablets. Siri works on about 1-billion Apple products. Others work elsewhere and will continue to grow in number. The future might be artificial intelligence, but for now, all these talking boxes are more stupid intelligent than truly useful.
So, let me back up a bit to 2015 when Echo and Alexa launched and when Apple shipped Watch. There’s a revolution you can use. Watch, for now, is an extension of the iPhone; a wonderful device which takes calls, makes calls, handles alerts and notifications with ease, but hidden inside and underneath is the next revolution that may precede talking artificial intelligences.
Sensors. Watch has a heart rate sensor rated the most accurate on a wearable device. And Apple is just getting started. How long before Watch measures blood sugar with a glucose monitor? How long before Watch can track heart rate in real time, all the time, instead of just every x-number of minutes? How long before Watch can check blood oxygen levels?
Soon. Such sensors built in to an affordable wearable device will dwarf any talking box from an online retailer so proud of their technology failures they refuse to admit how many of anything they sell has been sold. Watches might be old fashioned and less useful than a smartphone, but Watch is the future because it’s a dual gateway; a bevy of sensors that tell us so much (alerts, alarms, notifications, health, exercise) about ourselves in real time; and with Siri, a way to invoke artificial intelligence in ways Echo and Alexa just cannot do. Ever. Until Amazon builds a Watch-like device and manages to trick a few hundred million people into buying it and using it and that strategy hasn’t worked for the Echo maker yet. Watch goes where you go.
The personal computer as we know it is changing, not disappearing, and it’s not going to be represented in the future by Echo devices and Alexa but by a simple wearable that is always on, always communicating, always working for us, and not trying to sell us something we don’t want.