CeBIT 2006: State of the Union

Day Two here at CeBIT in Hannover and we can safely say that we've trundled past all the big announcements. This is a huge show, but all of the real announcements seem to happen at U.S. and Asian shows unfortunately. But if you noticed what those announcements were—Origami, improvements in flash drives, lots of PMPs and Tuners—there's a clear trend. This is a design show. It's not about technology anymore.

It feels like we're at an turning point or, if you want to be all Gladwell about it, a tipping point. This industry has gone from speeds and feeds to "Gee, it's purdy" in about 6 years and we're about to turn another corner and talk about performance again because the innovation-through-trade-dress route is in danger of imploding on itself. As we all know, Asia is making some incredible stuff that we'll never see. It looks great and is very inexpensive. But thus far we've seen few technological advances here except size reduction, which is an inevitable process.

So what am I saying? I'm saying that the stuff we saw this year will get very smart next year and in the next five years. It will become more "all-in-one" in a good way, with WAN, WiFi, Wireless USB, and other connectivity systems creating a seamless environment for our gear. The sexiness of the iPod will give way to the power of some cool PC/media player that will amaze us. I know this has been said more than once before (see: countless articles on Newton, Tablet PCs, Napster, Internet Porn, etc.) but I believe this time we'll pull it off. Because we know how to make pretty machines and interfaces, we can hide lots of the backend stuff from the user in ways that we have thus far only dreamed of. Take Origami, for example. It is no winner, but it is no Microsoft Bob, either. Tools like Origami and Frontrow and even the open-source Mac media system called CenterStage will offer us a simple interface to complex systems.

Maybe it's the jetlag and the cookies, but I'm kind of glad there is so much gloss here. I remember the heady days of 286 computers and 10MB hard drives. I used to go to swap meets and computer shows with my father and there we'd wander the halls, wondering at what these strange things all did. What was that board for? Audio input? Video editing? What was that shareware program for? A spreadsheet? A waveform generator? All that stuff was complex and hard to grasp, especially for someone without a CS degree. Now, I could probably walk through CeBIT with my grandmother and kind of explain to her what's up: That's a portable video player, you can put your favorite shows on there... That's a computer that looks like a helicopter.

Sure it's simplistic, but it's where we need to be in order to prove to the wider world that technology isn't just for the smart and rich. It's for everyone, now, it's its all eminently usable.

Oh, and that picture up there is of a pineapple we saw on the sidewalk here. It was early. We were tired.

Tell me what for in comments or chat with me here.