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Thinking Outside the Little Black Box

Jonathan Stark

In 2007, the iPhone was released. Apple "reinvents" the phone. The iPhone has infiltrated every aspect of our lives and has revolutionized the computing landscape. By 2015, the smartphone industry will dwarf personal computers. 4 billion people are buying smartphones every 2 years vs. 1.6 billion buying PCs every 5 years (Gartner, Apple, Google, a16z)

There is a progression through computing eras that can be illustrated by the posture taken with the computing interface.

Computing has historically been a sit down experience. An activity involving a desk, large screen, two hands and a fixed location.

The iPhone brought mobility, near constant connectivity, portable, single-handed computing. Yet this still requires an eyeball and a hand to use.

Smartphone use will double from two to four billion, while desktop use will stay around 1.4-1.6 Billion. In the next few years,80% of adults worldwide will have a connected supercomputer in their pocket. Technology so sophisticated it used to demand storage in an entire building now fits in your pocket. We now do computing standing, in a subway train for example. Up until now, computing was a seated activity. Laptops, despite their perceived portability weren’t quite a ‘mobile device’. We still can’t use a mobile phone without eyes or hands, and the device has passed ubiquity.

What’s Next?

In the far future we’ll see AR experiences possibly becoming so invisible that they exist as nothing more than a contact lens displaying imagery and data that is inferred simply from the device observing what is happening around you.

More immediately, we are entering a new posture that is screenless and hands free. Amazon Echo powered by Alexa is an incredibly popular and powerful device that puts voice activated interfaces in every corner of your home. We also have Siri on our devices and desktops and earpods. Google Assistant is already part of Allo and will be making it’s way to our homes by the time you read this. Voice interaction with AI bots enables whole new experiences that leverage the data and API’s already existing and yet to be built.

From the web developer’s perspective, "A browser is just a window into the web." Yet the web is more than visuals. It’s the databases and API’s that feed our experiences. Moving beyond the screen, push notifications are becoming increasingly commonplace as UI’s like iOS move to make the notifications a common feed for users. We have result sets in multiple forms from Siri and Google Assistent.

So how do we adapt to this as developers in an age where there is so much to know that being a generalist is nearly impossible? Couple of options. One is horizontal scaling. Meaning become very specialized in a particular technology. Even being an expert in Javascript may not be enough any more. Rather, you are a React developer or a NodeJS developer, or a machine learning developer. Of course this can bite you. See Flash. You might also opt for a particular software specialization, such as CMS’ - helping companies transition from their old systems that assumed content formatting for screen only, move to new formats that allow delivery of content across all these different computing postures.

Or maybe you’ll be an API developer, working to build access to everything for everything.

In design, you could specialize in typography, responsive design, or UX (even further specializing in areas such as UX for Internet of Things type devices).

The other approach is vertical scaling - going really deep on problems for a specific audience. For example, Jonathan has been focused on credit unions lately and is able to provide a set of expertise and knowledge based on his intimate knowledge of the problems and requirements of credit unions.

Some people fear that vertical scaling can lead to boredom. However, each client is different and brings new problems and challenges. They will be incredibly happy with the expertise you can provide compared to a generalist solutions company. Plus, you will be rewarded by your sense of mastery in the domain.

"What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?" - Thulsa Doom

Don’t argue about tools, just pick what’s right for you and make change.