Friday, June 27, 2014

Android L and the disappearance of the smart phone

Polydevicism is a term I coined in a 2010 blog entry, depicting the ever present array of personal computing devices which surround us in our daily lives. More specifically, the blog entry mentions how all those devices will be satellites to one primary device.

That primary device used to be a desktop computer. Now it is our phone. Soon, that device will be as non imposing as a credit card that is carried in a wallet--the disappearance of the phone as we know it.

Google announced the code name of the next version of Android called "L" at their yearly IO conference. A huge underlying theme of IO 14 was the integration between devices with an emphasis on "casting", like with their successful Chromecast device as just one of the means of doing so. If you connect the dots between everything shown at IO, it paints a paradigm shifting picture where the phone is made transparent.

I'll explain:
1. Google showcased Material Design; their attempt at a universal approach to UI that scales to any device, from watches to car displays to desktops to TVs.

2. Chromecast is an avenue in which anyone with a phone can walk up to an enabled TV and start viewing their own personal media:  videos, music, pictures, music and likely soon news feeds, calendar, and documents. Casting doesn't have to be one directional; I suspect video conferencing will follow (think Google Hangouts on a TV).

3. To bounce off my last idea in #2, it was rumored before IO that Google will merge Google Voice and Hangouts.

4. Google announced Android Auto; an Android interface for a car. Think of Auto as the template and basis of my argument. The driver's phone will cast to the car, allowing for the car to act as a controller for the phone. In essence, the car is a phone, complete with speaker, microphone, and display. It will undoubtedly allow the driver to place calls.

5. IO also showcased Android Wear and more specifically an Android wrist watch. It is able to instantiate phone calls with the aid of a smart phone. Things like calendar events and even the time can be viewed from the watch. It used to be something to carry a pocket watch until wrist watches replaced them. Modern cell phones are like pocket watches.

6. Google also showed how a Chrome OS enabled computer will be able to run applications installed on the user's phone. The phone will communicate with the other computer, relaying notifications like when the user receives a call. I suspect making calls through the computer via the phone (like with Auto) is inevitable.

7. Google showed both the situation where A) the proximity of a Wear device unlocked a smart phone. B) the presence of a phone unlocked a Chromebook without the use of a password. A password is just a way of proving identity.

8. Chromecast will be getting some form of user permission system, where the owner can allow for some people to use their device instead of the current policy where anyone on the network can cast. I suspect permissions will be broken down into various tasks like viewing videos, making calls, etc. The user identification via device from #7 will play a role.

All the points I made have 1 major implication:  the user does not have to take their phone out of their pocket or purse.

So, why does a "phone" require a display or speaker or microphone for that matter? All it really serves is a network connection.

Imagine a world where we can walk up to any display and access our "cloud data". Your computer stays tucked away while every display feels familiar as though it is your own. For example, ATMs will just be a cast of your computer's banking application. Drive through menus will display your favorite items as well as offers specifically for you.

Google will try to get microphones, cameras, and in some instances, speakers into or around every display. We'll see how well our social paranoia of surveillance lasts as we cast our hearts away.