Roger Kay on Form Factor Epiphany

InsightaaS: Roger Kay is one of the world's leading experts on client technology, including PCs, tablets and mobiles. Formerly a senior executive at IDC, Kay is now president of his own firm, Endpoint Technology Partners, and is a regular contributor to; the piece featured here was published on earlier this month. In it, Kay argues that the ultimate interface is one in which the computer is not present - in which "the computer itself becomes so small that it can go anywhere: it can be embedded surgically, woven into a piece of clothing, fit on a key chain."

The obvious issue with increasing miniaturization is interface - how can we command something so small without a keyboard or mouse, and how can we gain access to output? Kay sees answers to each question. Inputs, he believes, will rely on voice and gestures, which will in time be supplemented by contextual intelligence -which "will be anticipatory and will help you do things in situations in which input might be awkward or difficult." On the subject of the output, he notes that "apparent screen size is a function of distance between the viewer’s eyes and the screen and its actual dimensions," citing Google Glass and similar technologies as ways to embed viable displays into very small packages.

For the record, InsightaaS is very much in sync with Kay's conclusions. We have written recently on wearables as a corporate device type, as a core component of IoT, and on Google Glass application development, and we are working on a whitepaper that will make the point that wearables "erode the IT interface altogether." Use of wearables in a production environment may still be uncommon - but they aren't far off on the horizon, and this is a good time to start thinking about how they will impact our IT use, and what we want to get from their deployment.

Over the weekend, I had an epiphany about computer form factors (their shapes, sizes, and the way they function).  No, not a religious revelation; a more secular one.  And here it is: the best form factor for any computing device is none at all.

That’s right, folks: presto, change-o, and your computer disappears!

I’ve been in the industry one way or another for decades, and there’s a lot of found wisdom about the way things should be.  And I’m as guilty as the next guy for falling into these tropes.  For example, based on sales and stereotyping we consider it true that the Chinese like big desktops while the Japanese like small ones.  It fits some neat cultural biases, including the idea that Japan is small and crowded, and so the people like small things, while China is big and swaggering (sort of like the United States) and so favors large items.

And this type of thinking led me at first to treat Google Glass as a pariah, likely to alienate most people, who will not want someone in the room being able to look them up without their knowing, possibly video record them, and otherwise press an advantage of connected knowledge against the "unarmed" interlocutor.

Further thought brought me around partway.  But I still wasn’t entirely on board...

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