With the ubiquity of technology in our lives, it seems preposterous that a person of any age would ask “What’s a computer?” Apple’s latest iPad Pro advertisement takes that exact approach much to the chagrin of many viewers. The TV spot follows a teenage girl as she plays with friends, works on a school project and explores her neighborhood. As an aside, it was quite refreshing (though likely inaccurate) to see a kid spending so much time outdoors, in such an independent fashion. After spending all day with her iPad, the girl returns home. A neighbor asks “Whatcha doing on your computer?” The girl replies: “What’s a computer?”
The young girl’s response about computers is the same as many young people asked about payphones, cassette tapes, or floppy disks. Technology or devices that were once inescapable, now unrecognizable due to their obsolescence. Annoyed and angry responses to the ad aren’t surprising. The most primitive part of our brain is still the most powerful in evoking emotion and it is particularly triggered by new things. The paradigm of personal computing completely changing is a new and scary thought to both consumers and business users alike. However, the evolution beyond computers is just as certain to come as the advancements from the aforementioned technologies. Reading the tea leaves, you can see the foundation for those changes today:
- Virtual keyboards and micro projectors turn any device into a full-on workstation with all the functionality of a standard computer, but none of its cumbersome weight or immobility.
- Voice control assistants render keyboard inputs obsolete for many functions. And on the fringe of that technology is subvocal recognition. Devices strapped to user’s necks can detect words they haven't even uttered aloud.
- Shopping lists in the connected home are created by personal AI curators alerted by the soon-empty milk jug or misplaced umbrella. These orders can be compiled and fulfilled without ever having to turn on a “computer.”
Computers may not be in the junk pile just yet, but the strong response to that possibility serves as a signpost to consider how your business or customers can prepare for it. By embracing the decentralized computing future businesses enable jobs like the Digital Tailor, Man-Machine Teaming Manager, and Personal Memory Curator highlighted in the 21 Jobs of the Future report.
The commercial has been derided for the flippant reply from the girl and general disbelief that anybody could possibly be unfamiliar with the term computer. How could the centerpiece of workplace productivity be completely foreign to a teen? The premise isn’t as far-fetched as critics claim it to be. The term post-PC era was first used by David Clark at a 1999 MIT conference. During his speech, Clark lays out (quite accurately) the IoT paradigm that was still 15 years away. Tech leaders have been anticipating the befuddled teen’s response for quite some time.
IoT devices are mostly expensive appliances like refrigerators or thermostats, but we are quickly approaching a time where every item worth more than five bucks can be instrumented to become a computing device. Imagine your water bottle, shoes, chair, and pen all networked and computing together to simplify your workflow and help you live your best life. When EVERYTHING is a computer it’s easy to wonder: what exactly is a computer?