Blog Post

Pew Parts the Clouds and Sees the Obvious

Pew Internet, which does predictable surveys that often come up with predictable findings about many things digital, says the future of computing is Internet-based. At the risk of offending many, including my mother, I would just like to say: no shit. One doesn’t need a survey to figure that out, but merely to look at how we, our families and our kids already use computing devices.

In a report titled “The Future of the Cloud Computing,” cloud is used a metaphor for any service that’s Internet-based. Cloud computing, meanwhile is an overused catchphrase used to describe “the act of storing, accessing, and sharing data, applications, and computing power in cyberspace.” The report says that by 2020, the desktop will start to fade into irrelevance.

Some 71 percent of the 895 “technology experts and stakeholders” who were surveyed believe that by 2020 “most people will access software applications online” rather than “depending primarily on tools and information housed on their individual, personal computers.”

Nearly 27 percent disagreed, believing that “by 2020, most people will still do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Internet-based applications like Google Docs and applications run from smartphones will have some functionality, but the most innovative and important applications will run on (and spring from) a PC operating system. Aspiring application designers will write mostly for PCs.”

Like many of Pew’s previous surveys, I find the report’s insights timid, pedestrian and pretty pointless, and the questions they’ve asked people leading. I don’t want to pick on Pew — most surveys about future technology trends and adoption tend to focus on today’s grown-up users, failing to take into account the kids, tweens and teens who are growing up on the cloud with Internet-connected devices such as the iPod touch and Android-based phones. If the sales of 2 million iPads are any indication, the desire to leave the PC behind is much more acute today than ever before.

To be sure, there are many applications — mathematical, graphically intensive, data-heavy apps such as Excel — that are still going to require some kind of desktop presence, but most of the apps we commonly use are already browser-based. As Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows,” is quoted in the Pew Report as saying:

“We don’t have to wait until 2020 for this shift. It’s already happened. The browser (a cloud interface) is already by far the most possible PC application, and cloud services like Facebook are the most popular computing services, whether accessed via PCs, netbooks, or smartphones. For consumers, the cloud revolution has already happened.”

Or to put it more bluntly — Pew may be squinting to see the future, but it’s already here. To learn more about it, join us at Structure on June 23 & 24th in San Francisco.

8 Responses to “Pew Parts the Clouds and Sees the Obvious”

  1. A more interesting subject would be the companies that control the bandwidth. In addition to streamed radio and video, apps as sophisticated as Photoshop will be common and our need to upload raw material and download finished product will add to our usage. Given that we will be using online data in ever increasing ways, do we face caps, ISP favored partners who revenue share, QoS speed tampering, or exorbitant buckets of bits charges? Is there some other technology that might bust the status quo because wireless is not it. Will a non-wireless company step in and either bootstrap a network or acquire one of the smaller ones? Or do the wireless and wired companies continue to grow and acquire the businesses that furnish the content of the internet? Do we just get comfortable with diverting money budgeted to other areas of our lives to this one category? To me, this is an overarching question, that determines our online future and I would prefer to see some group think examining the pros and cons of various parameters that affect the bit pipe.

  2. one of the biggest things i see so far is that many of the devices such as the iPad and many higher end smartphones that are seen as potential PC replacement actually need PC’s for activation, updating, etc.

    these need to become stand alone devices that work without any PC so that they can be purchased as alternative or replacements to PC not only supplemental devices.

    they also need to become more suitable for sharing in ways such as having multiple and guest login’s that do not give the current users access to the owners email, etc. i can really see iPad being left sitting on the living room coffee table for use by the whole family, but for this to be practical they need to become less connected to a single personality.

  3. HereAndNow

    For me, 90% of what I do can be accomplished in a browser.

    Hopefully, ChromeOS will motivate software companies to move their desktop apps to the browser. Then, the remaining 10% of my needs will be fulfilled.

  4. “failing to take into account the kids, tweens and teens who are growing up on the cloud”

    I don’t doubt that part of the problem is acquiring enough of those tweens and teens to be a representative part of surveys like this – or any other.

    That age group already thinks the world revolves around their egregious needs alone. Imagine what you might have to promise as reward to engage their participation.

    Or their attention long enough to participate.

  5. Om, I agree with you — this is not some revolutionary outcome. If you have been in this space for any length of time, you are witness to how cloud based computing is evolving. Mobility is the catalyst which has been fueled by — 2 million iPads and 3 billion handset subscriptions.

    I think the IT grown-ups forget about the kids. A major part of their computing experience already takes place in the cloud. To them this is natural — expected.

  6. In next 20 years, internet will just make us more obese, more children will start wearing eye glasses for myopia and we will end up sticking “Calorie Labels” like food labels in computers, tablets and TVs or warning against over internet use. Parents need to wakeup and educate our next generation to utilize internet responsibly.