Trends that shape the future Internet

I’m working on a document as a part of a study by Eurescom on the Future Internet – the Operator’s vision. Our part is on the applications of the future internet and as a starting point we’re identifying several trends that are likely to shape this future. We’re looking 10-15 years ahead in the study so it’s perfectly OK to be a little on the wild side.

All and any feedback on the list below is much welcomed:

  • Mobile and nomadic: Laptops and mobile handsets will be connected to the Internet when- and wherever. Bandwidth to mobile devices will continue to increase and as capabilities of mobile handsets improve, mobile usage of online services and applications will become mainstream. Better batteries (see below) will further limit the need for any sort of cabling or otherwise location dependent work. Twisted pair cables will gradually disappear from the office space.
  • Data storage increasingly on the Net: As users get used to working with their documents and data across many different devices, and “always-on” connections become a trusted reality, data and document storage will move largely online. Applications will more and more make use of this fact. Large attachments in email messages will disappear and be replaced with references to online documents. This trend can already be seen as Friday emails point to videos on YouTube instead of including them as attachments. Online storage has many benefits, such as safer backup procedures and simplified collaboration work.
  • Web interfaces for most applications: The rise of alternative operating systems, such as Linux and Mac OS, coupled with increasing usage from mobile devices, leaves the browser, or – more accurately – Web standards as the common ground to write cross platform applications. These standards will increasingly allow rich user interfaces, in line with the rise of AJAX-based web applications in the last 2-3 years. Current office-suite-like applications, such as Google Docs, database apps like DabbleDB and Swivel and photo editing applications like Phixr, provide a glimpse of what is to come. Consequently, the importance of operating systems declines.
  • Net connection as ubiquitous as electricity: “Always on, anywhere, without caring how.” Users’ devices will be connected to the Net anywhere. Moving from one access technology to another will be invisible to the user. No need to think about GSM1800 vs. WiFi vs. UMTS vs. HSDPA vs. EDGE or WiMAX. Devices will support multiple technologies and Software Defined Radio (SDR) will eventually make the same hardware adapt to pretty much any radio transmitted standard we’ll come up with. Wired connections will still connect homes and businesses, but not the actual end-user devices.
  • Revolution in battery lifetime: Whether solved with fuel cells, new chemical battery technologies or some radically new approach, the economic incentive is simply to great for this problem not to be solved. To some extent, the need for power on the devices themselves will not grow as fast as before as more and more of the computation and data handling moves online. Regardless, the battery lifetime of a handheld device will be measured in weeks and the battery lifetime of laptops (or their future equivalents) in days, instead of days and hours respectively.
  • Overall need for computing power continues to rise: Rising electricity prices, ever more need for computing power and environmental issues – such as carbon emissions are already a big concern for data center operations. Regardless if computation moves increasingly to central hubs such as data centers, or will be more distributed by means of peer-to-peer storage and computation, the total electricity demands are rising rapidly. Radically more efficient computers and data center operations are needed to prevent this from becoming a major hurdle to future application possibilities.
  • Ownership of bits, instead of atoms becomes more acceptable: Today’s common perception that in order to “own” something, a physical object is needed, will fade. User’s will have the feeling of “ownership” of movies, music and books as long as they “own” the right to access and use them on any medium at will. The convenience of a fully controlled digital copy of the content will actually make users feel a higher degree of ownership than with today’s – often artifical – limitations of DVDs, CDs and DRM-ed digital content.
  • Usability will dramatically improve: User centric products will kill technology centric ones. As more attention is given to user centric design, user’s will feel more in control and mainstream adoption will finally happen for technologies that may even have been around for decades already. Intuitive, simple user interfaces and innovative new ways to interact with technology (such as multi touch displays, eye-tracking and voice recognition) will make technology feel warmer and more intelligent – and thereby much more widely and easily adopted.
  • Machine to machine communications: The number of devices connected to the Internet will continue to rise. More and more sensors and other small, automated devices will use the Net to share data and access online services that make use of this data and tell the devices what to do. Software will also increasingly interact with other software via the Net, accessing data, synchronizing efforts and fighting for resources.
  • More devices for the “same” tasks: Convergence will happen. We already see our mobile phones acting as our instant camera, our alarm clock, wristwatch, portable music players and what not. The contradictory side-effect is that users will own ever more devices capable of the seemingly same tasks. The phone camera may be good for casual photos, but an SLR is needed for the safari or the family photos. The Walkman phone may be good for playing music while at the gym, but when you’re home you prefer to use the home media center (plus you want to keep the actual phone handy). The Blackberry may be great for email, but it’s less than great as a phone and is far from being a fashion item. Even highly convergant devices like the iPhone won’t change this. As data is more easily shared across devices, people will pick the handset to go with the shoes and the occasion – notice recent developments with Prada and Dolce & Gabbana co-branding recently launched devices.

9 comments

  1. I’d like to voice my disagreement with a couple of your points.

    Parts of point seven (“ownership of bits…”) don’t sit well with me. When I read a sentence like “the convenience of fully controlled digital copy” I can’t help but think you’re being sarcastic. It sounds like a contrived ad-copy for an airliner; “the spa-like comfort of our nasty-cheap economy-class …” DRM is by definition an “inconvenience feature”. People may be stupid and all, and they may very well learn to live with DRM infused content and hardware, but they’ll hardly ever grow fond of it for the DRM part – even if the tech-industry and entertainment-industry ever manage to overcome the user-experience hurdles inherent to such a system.

    Actually I’d argue the opposite angle: People will increasingly view content (music, movies, books, etc.) as an ubiquitous shared resource (see point #2 network storage) and possession of a personal copy and a sense of “ownership” will become less and less important. People will start to value more things like instant access and the ability to satisfy passing urges. A mixture of compulsory licence fees (like for FM radio-stations), flat, monthly subscription fees, and embedded adverts, seems likely to become a successful revenue model for future content-access services.

    Secondly, point #8 reads like something out of an mid-twentieth century grade-school essay on “what life will be like in the year 2000”. Those essays were filled with assertions that “peoples’ brains will have evolved and people will be much smarter, there will be no wars and no famine anywhere in the world.”

    About 100 years of office-desk telephone design tell me that the overall usability of technology products *will not* improve dramatically in the next 10-15 years. I just don’t buy it. Sorry! 🙂

    What will improve, however, is people’s gadget- and “internet-literacy” (or -tolerance, if you will), because we humans are mind-bogglingly capable of adapting to new and hostile environments. 🙂

  2. Good points.

    I probably need to be more clear on the “atoms vs. bits” part. By “fully controlled digital copy” I meant one without artificial limitations such as DRM. One practical solution could be to watermark sold copies with a unique ID and then at least be able to trace the “leak” to it’s source if its distribution becomes to massive.

    Another solution is that you’ll buy the license to download as much copyrighted content as you can consume monthly for as little as 2$ per month. The Nielsens (metrics companies) of the world would then track the files that are actually being trafficked and the RIAAs of the world distribute the funds.

    On the usability front, my defense is that usability HAS finally been getting some attention in the last couple of years. Still far from what it really deserves, but a trend on the rise. (Plus that our brains will of course grow enormous in this half a generation of human evolution).

    Somebody said that if technological innovation was completely halted for a decade and the focus instead put on making today’s technology usable for the masses, the net productivity would be better off than by following the current trend.

  3. …ah, so you meant “fully controlled” by the user/consumer/buyer person. It was easy to misunderstand the way it stood, as the end of the paragraph mentions DRM tech.

    Regarding DRMed bits vs. unencumbered bits, I think that they’ll find their respective markets – but the DRM will possibly be more tied to protecting a) extremely expensive (or “rare”) bits – such as high-end software and the sorts of content that are specifically *not* indented for a wide, mass-market distribution (think medical records, celebrities’ naughty home-videos, etc.) – while most lower-cost popular-culture artifacts will end up going the unencumbered, freely copyable, open file-formats route…

    I agree with you about the potential for improved usability. It’s just that I remain very cynical about it’s prospects in a free, imperfect marketplace where salesmanship and obvious properties such as price, looks and fasionability have far greater influence on consumer-decisions than such invisible and/or intangible properties as usability and quality.

  4. I would include the option that corporations might start tapping into “on demand” Bandwidth, CPU and Disk space solutions rather than opting for the current traditional host your own model.
    Amazon is marketing this at the moment (EC2, S3) at cents pr. CPU / Gigabyte. Google sounds like another viable competitor in that marketplace.

    In the revenue area I agree with monthly fees and ad based models, but I have still not given up on the micro payments. I think that with Google checkout, Adwords and Adsense, we might start paying for content on Youtube with our blog revenue :p The Google currency is just around the corner…

  5. 1. Nano-Capacitors
    I think nano-capacitors are the most promising way of storing electricity for mobile devices in the future. The most radical change this can have on usability the fact that these can be charged in a matter of seconds.

    2. Twisted Pair goes away, or maybe not
    I don’t think copper/fiber cabling will be eliminated from the office. You might not have to plug a wire into your computer/device but the wireless link can only be a very short range one (2-10m).
    The reason for this has to do with the nature of wireless communications and the inherent problems. Wireless transmissions are by nature always shared, the larger the range the more people share the connection.
    Even with further advances in using frequency modulation the bandwidth of copper/fiber will always exceed wireless by a factor of about 1000.
    There are also huge concerns with QoS issues, security and the fact that with $10 worth of hardware any kid can take your entire network off
    line by filling the spectrum with garbage.
    It’s also virtually impossible to manage a shared resource if the people controlling undpoints(devices) don’t play nice (and they won’t).

    3. Intranets will become Internet
    As companies start learning from open source and mmorpg projects/guilds they increasingly start using only web based tools for IT. This enables
    companies to cross borders as never before. I don’t see this eliminating the concept of an office but the office will no louger contain any unfrastructure.
    The concept Intranet will die.

    4. Data Centers will be de-centralized
    Multi-casting data (movies/music) does not work, people want to be able to access data at their convenience. There is a bottleneck on the internet,
    the core routers are getting pushed to the limit.
    Even though the Internet is in theory uon-centralized the trends tend to focus much
    of the traffic to relatively few resources (think GooTube/Google/Cnn/MySpace).
    There simply aren’t and won’t be routers to handle the amount of traffic these sites generate so their only solution is to set up mirror sites closer to the user.
    In less than five years Google will have a hosting center

  6. It seems inevitable that, as the list of services purchased by the typical consumer grows, the need for centralized provisioning, billing and customization grows exponentially. It will obviously be much too complex to manage for “regular folks”.

    We see this already with http://www.mamma.is and of course the telcos have been trying to leverage their billing relationship in their dealings with e.g. content providers so my guess is that they (the telcos) will succeed in this battle even though the results have been mixed so far.

  7. Your point of “One practical solution could be to watermark sold copies with a unique ID” reminds me of artists selling numbered copies of sculptures, paintings and prints. Some people might not really be aware of but fact is that usually not a single bronze sculpture is cast, but a series of them.
    E.g. Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais has 12 editions.

  8. Since the input field rejected the bottom half of my comments here they are for the second time:

    In less than five years Google will have a hosting center

  9. Seems this form does not like the less-than symbol 😛 so for the third time:

    4. Data Centers will be de-centralized
    Multi-casting data (movies/music) does not work, people want to be able to access data at their convenience. There is a bottleneck on the internet,
    the core routers are getting pushed to the limit.
    Even though the Internet is in theory yon-centralized the trends tend to focus much of the traffic to relatively few resources (think GooTube/Google/Cnn/MySpace).
    There simply aren’t and won’t be routers to handle the amount of traffic these sites generate so their only solution is to set up mirror sites closer to the user.
    In less than five years Google will have a hosting center less than 5 router hops from anyone
    in the world, not because the want to but because they have to. As a side node this is also the reason we all still have crappy

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