I’ll admit that I’m not as interested by what’s in a productivity vision as the change in that vision from year-to-year and what is left out. I recently compared the “Microsoft Real time collaboration future vision 2010” to the “Productivity Future Vision 2009”. It seems the 2009 video was from Microsoft Labs and 2010 is from the Office group.
As far as changes in vision, my comments from the 2009 Productivity Future Vision video still apply. Especially the snarky comments: there are still no old or fat people in the future, people find holding razor thin sheets of glass comfortable, and workers just manipulate content rather than create it. Furthermore, it’s now clear that future productivity technology is only for the rich and privileged who live in Japanese-design-influenced environments that are perfectly clean and lit with no need for personal artifacts, food, or trash cans.
Let’s add two mobile future visions into the mix to triangulate further: the Nokia Future Technologies video from their research center and a school project of the IIT Institute of Design sponsored by Samsung. The Nokia video shows gaze tracking eyewear in action. The Samsung-sponsored video shows devices communicating with each other. So they both add some nice device-based ideas to the mix. And they both confirm a Logan’s Run future where productivity is driven by workers’ knowledge they will be exterminated when they hit 45 years old (up from 30 in the movie!).
Behind my smarty pants comments are some real issues. I can understand if these don’t fit the medium of the future vision video, but I think they are important and should be addressed by thought leaders:
Are emerging countries left out of the productivity future vision, or is that a rich world conceit?
Everything in the videos is in English – the standard language of Westernized business, but a barrier for productivity workers in emerging economies. What about a vision that includes quick contextual translation or localization? And the devices and work styles fit well into large, clean environments with expensive tools. What about a vision for environments that are chaotic, less insulated from temperature and elements, smaller, and more hazardous to expensive and fragile sheets of plastic? Or that doesn’t require every user to have their own, expensive, perfectly maintained personal devices? Maybe the innovation will be in identity so that scores of people can use fixed devices with easy-to-use authentication and security rather than new devices to be passed out up to the 7 billionth person on the planet. Or more flexible sheets that can be rolled up, crumpled, and dropped. In summary, by not having a vision that leverages the productivity of the billions of people in emerging economies for the businesses that could their brainpower, these productivity future visions provide only incremental rather than exponential improvements in overall performance.
Is the productivity future vision just for the young?
There is no doubt that the young are the future, but there is still value in extending the usefulness of employees into old age as productivity workers rather than the lucky few that get to spend their golden years as executives. Many trends (aging boomers, rising incomes in emerging economies, better healthcare technology) are contributing to an extension of the productive working life of people. They may be a bit less mobile and need devices that are easier to read. This is where I like the Nokia vision of the glasses (can they also do vision correction?).
Will future form factor be a simple extrapolation of Apple designs?
I may be alone here, but I don’t think hard, flat, thin glass/plastic is the ergonomic ideal. It looks great and currently confers status, but doesn’t hold and manipulate well. At some point, as with any design, something else can emerge as the ideal and we’ll look at flat glass as dated. What else is there? Beats me – maybe glasses (better accommodates older workers), maybe micro projectors, maybe floppy color e-ink pages (better for messy, bumpy environments since they are less breakable), maybe non-personal fixed devices with simple authentication that pulls info from the cloud instead of each person needing to supply their own device (better accommodates emerging economies and poorer workers).
I hope that future videos of this nature start to incorporate societal and cultural trends in addition to extrapolating on technology trends. That may lead to a better future rather than just a more productive one.
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