When Your Gadgets Get to Know You: The Future of ‘Personalized’ Computing

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Ben Bajarin is the Director of Consumer Technology Analysis and Research at Creative Strategies, Inc, a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm located in Silicon Valley.

I’ve often told people who ask me about the future of technology that as we get smarter devices, smarter software, and smarter cloud services we will also get more personalized devices, software and cloud services. The translation is that smarter equals more personal.

This is not to say that there isn’t a level of personalization with these devices or services already; only that it will be more so in the future.

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The technology industry has used the term “personal computer” for three decades now. However, the term really means “owned by a person.” My personal computer isn’t really all that personal at this point in time. It knows nothing about me and everything personalized about it is because I put in the time and effort to personalize it. A better term would be to say that I have a “customized computer” rather than “personal computer.”

In the future, however, I believe these devices will become more personal rather than personally customized. To arrive at this future, the computing industry will continue to evolve into what Apple CEO Steve Jobs calls the “post PC era.” To understand this better, let me explain what the PC era was and what the post PC era will be.

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The PC Era

This is the era where a consumer’s dependence on a computing device was centered around the PC, meaning a PC was a necessity to nearly every major mainstream computing experience. In this era no single other computing device could displace the PC.

We are at the tail end of this era, although the PC is still a central part of the current consumer experience. But we like having other digital devices that have become companions to our PCs like smart phones, digital cameras, tablets, mp3 players and more. However, none of them can sufficiently replace the PC yet.

I call what we are currently in the “PC plus era.” With this I mean that a PC, plus a host of other devices complete a holistic computing experience for consumers.

The Post PC Era

If during the PC era the PC was central to the computing experience, then in the post PC era we will see a more de-centralized model become mainstream. In fact I would argue that in this era we become less dependent on what we know as a PC today and more dependent on the cloud.

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In this era you will be able to do most, if not all, desired computing tasks comfortably, reliably, and conveniently from any connected smart screen. In this phase, the personal computing cloud becomes a key ingredient that is the central glue of the personal computing experience.

I say this phase is de-centralized because our dependence moves from the PC to the cloud, thus allowing any device connected to our personal cloud to become our computing platform of choice.

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Consumers in this model can choose just one or any number combinations of screens to accomplish any and all computing tasks. The key difference in this stage from the PC plus stage is that most, if not all, computing devices can become general purpose devices rather than function- or application-specific devices. This means that you can do more general tasks from each device (i.e email, browse the web, view media, communicate, etc.).

Personal to Personalized

In the not too distant future our devices will become smart enough to actually be able to learn or know more about us and how we use each device. This may sound scary at first but we will have a device that can begin to interpret our behaviors, likes and dislikes, schedules, and more. The device can then begin to truly assist and in some cases anticipate our actions and provide valuable data as a result.

For example: Let’s say I am in Palo Alto for meetings (as I often am). Whichever personalized computing device I have on me could look at my location and my schedule and notice that I have no lunch plans. It can then begin to recommend places for lunch based on any number of criteria that I have used to decide where to eat before.

To take this analogy a step further, I have friends who work and live in Palo Alto. The personalized computing device could also look at their schedules and say “Ken is at his office in Palo Alto and also has no lunch plans. Would you like to send Ken a note and ask him to join you for lunch at…”

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Another example I am fond of relates to events. Say my personalized device knew that I am fan of a specific music group. Whenever that music group was in town or scheduled to play at a location I was near, I could be alerted and asked if I would like to buy tickets.

These are just a few examples of how, as our devices get smarter, they can truly become more personal. The bottom line is that we are headed in this direction and getting there will take a tremendous amount of innovation that is still yet to come. But it is pretty clear to me that this post PC era is really about personalized computing.

This is the big trend that will be driving the next phase of growth within the PC, consumer electronics and telecom industries.

Ben Bajarin is the Director of Consumer Technology Analysis and Research at Creative Strategies, Inc, a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm located in Silicon Valley.

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