5 technologies changing our world

Government operations transformed by better communications, enhanced mobility

A technology isn't disruptive because of what it is as much as how we choose to use it.

I’ve spent the past decade writing about technologies predicted to be the most disruptive in the industry, and to be quite frank, it’s usually a tough story to write. In most years, the technological disruption is coming from very high-tech areas, such as the Semantic Web, virtualization or cloud computing. And it can often be difficult to connect the dots.

However, during the past two years, the disruption seems to have shifted toward communications, and five specific technologies are taking center stage in advancing how, where and when we choose to express ourselves, our ideas and our data.

1. The rebirth of tablet computing

The core competence of Apple Inc. isn’t creating innovative products; it's the ability to revamp failed technologies into disruptive hits.

Since author Alan Kay designed the DynaBook, a conceptualized idea of the first tablet computer depicted in the 1972 article "A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages," various companies have explored this technology time and time again with little to no success until last year, when Apple released the first iPad.

In one year, Apple has sold millions of iPads, creating a market that is turning into a tablet war with more than 30 iPad-like devices hitting the market in a matter of months.

But that's not the truly disruptive part of the story. With the iPad, Apple has created an operating system that ends the reign of Microsoft Windows, a trend that actually started with the iPhone in 2007.

It’s a three-pronged attack on the Microsoft Windows world that starts with disassembling the operating system into applications, or software that is not essential to the system, and making those applications easier for the user to find, select, open and remove.

The second prong centralizes those apps into a commoditized and regulated repository in which anyone can create, improve or collaborate on the construction of applications. That new form of software development and acquisition is spreading to mainstream desktop and laptop PCs and is on pace to become the main method of purchasing and using software.

The final prong is hardware. For a decade, Microsoft, along with hardware developers from companies such as Gateway Computers, MPC Computer, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, has been pushing the benefits of a light, 5-pound laptop that swivels to become a touch-screen tablet. The fact that half of those hardware vendors I just mentioned aren’t around anymore should provide a hint at how unsuccessful that swivel technology is.

Apple realized that the hardware's limitation was the need for a CD drive to install applications, which is a problem that the App Store solves. The company also recognized that it had to let go of the QWERTY keyboard.

The next steps in the iPad's evolution is the continued socialization, dissemination and improvement of the App Store and a race to keep up with whatever else you can throw into a tablet that won’t make it ugly, heavy or bulky.

My advice for Apple or anyone competing with it would be to pay attention to the way people choose to use these devices and ignore what they were intended to be used for.

That includes government agencies, private companies and individual industries. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple eventually created an App Store section for specific merchants or the federal government.

Next: Mobile mania

2. Mobile mania

The rebirth of tablets will have the greatest impact on mobile computing. That theme started with smart phones and will change the landscape of mobile computing in 2011 and beyond.

In a nutshell, we will see communications become more dynamic. Companies are already pushing consumers to opt in to receiving content on their smart phones via Short Message Service whenever users enter a retail store.

And with the 802.11u wireless standard, that push content will be possible via hot spots, too.

Good or bad, intrusive or intuitive — mobile technology, combined with the larger, high-resolution screens and stronger processing power of tablet devices, will speed this dynamic push-and-pull process.

The only two things that will slow down the mobile movement will be wireless, architectural limits and potentially negative consumer reaction to push content.

Personally, however, I would love to have a push conversation on my iPad with an agent as soon as I walk into a department of motor vehicles to renew my driver’s license, as opposed to guessing which endless line I should stand in.

Next: HTML 5

3. HTML 5

There's a lot of hype around HTML 5, specifically related to its ability to end the rule of Adobe Flash as a major way to express video. But don't believe the hype.

HTML 5 doesn’t replace Flash as much as it allows developers to choose the medium they wish to use to embed video content. That modification doesn’t change the amount of Flash content available or planned for Web development.

There also has been a lot said about how Apple’s strong — I call it stubborn — resistance to Flash coupled with the emergence of HTML 5 will finally bring down Adobe's stranglehold on displaying video, which I think is ridiculous.

Compliance is the soul of technology, so I oppose Apple’s unwillingness to play nicely with Adobe. However, we choose how we want to communicate, and that choice historically has always been the easiest way possible, which equates to compliance. That inertia is another reason that I don’t think Flash is going anywhere.

However, the freedom to handle multimedia and graphical content on the Web without requiring users to install plug-ins and applications makes HTML 5 disruptive, and it's the next step toward multimedia integration. But it's not necessarily the end of Flash and certainly not the end of Adobe — yet.

That is particularly true because many agencies have adopted Flash as a standard. In addition, the government is often slower than industry in moving to new technologies, especially after a long history with a specific kind, and agencies must deal with the slow and painful budget crunch ahead.

Next: 3-D: A tale of two technologies

4. 3-D: A tale of two technologies

James Cameron is credited with making a big splash with 3-D technology in movies. On the Web, that technology has been gaining prominence as developers realize that switching to a 3-D interface can enliven content online.

There are two forms of 3-D technology: virtual 3-D, which is 2-D architecturally redesigned to illustrate depth in objects, and traditional 3-D, which requires assisted technology, such as glasses. Online, the graphical alterations made within the development of HTML 5 allow for the easier development of 3-D websites.

What makes 3-D so disruptive is that it’s free on the Web, unlike the pricey version of 3-D for your TV. One way or another, the days of developing in 2-D are numbered. And as the price of 3-D technology decreases, the trend toward 3-D viewing should increase, especially as that capability extends to more devices, such as tablet computers.

For federal agencies, 3-D could accelerate as a disruptive technology because of its applicability in medical and scientific research. We could soon see strong adoption at the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Defense Department.

Next: Wireless TV

5. Wireless TV

Applications dominate three of the four most common screens that most U.S. technophiles use every day: smart phones, desktop or laptop PCs, and tablets. It’s only natural that the next step is extending that functionality to TV, especially if it can be done wirelessly with little to no effort.

That’s why service providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast are battling with Internet companies such as Google and Yahoo to win the race for TV app development. What‘s tricky about the development of TV apps, commonly called widgets, is their content. The nature of TVs is static rather than mobile, and the units are a broadcasting tool as opposed to a private screen, such as a desktop computer. So app developers need to rethink the way they develop content for TV.

But that's not to say it isn't possible. There are millions of TVs that can display weather, stock prices, movies and TV shows from Web feeds. There are apps in development that would let users change the viewing angle of a sports game or live event. However, the medium begins to become truly disruptive when you can pair it with your work e-mail or change your TV to act as a collaboration tool.

In government, I would expect to see higher rates of adoption of Wi-Fi-enabled TV because it potentially serves multiple purposes with little to no extra installation costs. And as vendors increasingly produce Web TV apps, the adoption rate should skyrocket.

Reader Comments

Wed, Apr 6, 2011

Wireless TV? Talk about the old becoming new again. TV was wireless in the beginning, then cable and satellite, now back to wireless, albeit using different technology of course. I see the future and there are no wires, even for power...

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