Past, present, and future (a tech post in three acts)

I’ve talked before about my 5 year old Mac Pro, and how I’m itching to upgrade. I also recently talked about my concerns for the future of Apple — or more specifically, my concerns for the future of my computing — since Steve Jobs passed away. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since the news came through only a two days ago, and I’ve realised something.

Past

Back in the nineteen-hundred and nineties1 computers were all about power; you had to have the most powerful computer you could afford, especially if you ran applications like Photoshop. There was just no other measurement to go by. The fastest computer was the best computer. Fullstop.

My first Mac was a Graphite G4 tower, followed by the kooky but futuristic looking Mirrored-door drive G4 with a faster CPU. I stuck with it long enough to bypass the G5 machines completely, but I knew when the Mac Pro was released it was time to upgrade. I bought the first Mac Pro model, which I still run today.

The same basic premise — a box housing CPU/s, RAM, and hard drives but each time better, faster, more powerful. Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade.

Present

This afternoon I made myself a coffee. I felt the foaminess of the steamed milk was good enough to try for a personal best rosetta latte art pour. I thought it wasn’t too bad, so I snapped a quick photo with Instagram on my iPhone. I took the coffee and my phone back to bed where I continued to nurse a hangover. From bed I fired up Instagram again to play with the different filters to find the one that showed my rosetta in the best possible light.

At that moment the phone rang. It was the Perodua service centre calling to remind me I had a service booked for the Myvi on Monday at 10am. The call lasted maybe 20 seconds, then it ended, and I was right back where I was 20 seconds earlier, playing with the filters in Instagram, trying to make my rosetta look as awesome as possible.

Future

As soon as I’d I posted that photo online I had my realisation, and it is this:

The focus on computing power is gone at Apple. Computers are powerful enough for 99% of people’s day-to-day needs, and most of their work needs. The gains from incremental power upgrades in CPUs are shrinking.

The focus at Apple is, and has been for the last few years — and maybe for the entirety of Jobs’ career — on humanising the computer experience. By making computing invisible, it allows us to simply do things, like play with photo filters on a phone, answer a call, and go back to where we were seconds ago, without a second thought. Apple’s been working on the next evolutionary step towards meaningful computing in our everyday lives with iPhone, iPad, iOS, and now iCloud and Siri. And I can’t wait.

It’ll be dark while we mourn the passing of a true visionary, but after some deep consideration and one momentary experience, I realise the future actually looks pretty bright.

  1. Tip o’ the hat to Merlin Mann for saying dates in this way at Webstock, where I first heard it.