Often it takes a synergy of three things to make a revolution. The PC was big only after Apple delivered the concept, Microsoft delivered the productivity suite and IBM fully validated the concept for business. You needed the hardware, the software and a service organization that could put the result together at scale. Then the Compaqs and Dells of the world had the parts and the model to make it all successful.
The next revolution will likely come the same way. The three parts I’m thinking about are MU-MIMO, the technology that creates gigabit wireless networks that scale; NVIDIA Grid, which can handle up to workstation class loads in the cloud; and something like Microsoft HoloLens that can put a computer display anyplace you can see.
Right now, we are largely tied to laptops, tablets and smartphones without a really easy way to move among all three. In most cases, the OS and hardware are different enough that starting a project on one device and finishing it on another is an exercise in frustration. We have more power in our smartphones than we had in our PCs a few decades ago and more cores (up to 8) than most of us have in our PCs today, yet we still can’t do PC work with a smartphone.
The issue isn’t just the performance of the components but the limitations of the battery. Windows 10 will allow us to run Office on our phones and tie them to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, resulting in a PC-like experience. But this means we’ll need to connect the phone to power, and particularly in offices or events, the network connectivity will be so poor that we’ll still likely drift back to using laptops.
Qualcomm has been pushing MU-MIMO technology heavily, and the first MU-MIMO products are beginning to move into the market. This technology, which stands for “multi-user, multiple input, multiple output,” promises to provide near wired gigabit levels of performance on a wireless connection when paired with the right wireless modem on the cell phone, tablet or laptop. Each device gets close to a dedicated data feed, which substantially increases the performance to each. When Ruckus starts shipping their MU-MIMO routers (they lead in high density solutions) we potentially get to a level of performance where we may not need to wire buildings for Ethernet again. That’s true portability and flexibility.
With this kind of performance, you can stream a very high definition video feed to large numbers of people. That opens the door for a full remote computing experience.
Increasingly the core component in any high performance remote desktop solution, NVIDIA GRID was the first server technology designed from the ground up to host desktops, providing up to workstation levels of performance remotely. Dell recently picked it up and turned it into an impressive branded workstation platform. The idea of a high performance desktop streamed down to something like a smartphone now becomes far more realistic because you can get to similar cost/performance levels with a cloud implementation and you can get performance on a wireless device that rivals a local workstation.
The real missing link is the end client. Yes, you could stream to a MU-MIMO smartphone connected to a monitor and a mouse, giving you a workstation you could carry in your pants. But why think conventionally?
HoloLens is basically an unlimited display that can hear your commands and see your gestures. Any surface can be a keyboard, and the air is your trackpad. Suddenly, you don’t need to carry anything but a pair of admittedly pretty large glasses.
Granted, we’ll need to improve the accuracy of the input and the performance of the head-mounted display to fully realize the possibilities, but that will happen anyway as HoloLens moves to second- and third-generation products by the end of the decade, evolving into something truly amazing.
Windows 10 to HoloLens
I think we are just at the front end of really rethinking how we interface with computers. MU-MIMO and GRID combine to open a pipe which can massively extend what we consider a viable PC client to be. We’ll look beyond boosting traditional laptops or even tablets and smartphones to entirely different input devices like HoloLens.
I expect that in about a decade we’ll be looking back at all of this stuff like kids today look back at typewriters, calculators and rolodexes as things from the ancient past that primitive workers had to live with before they became technologically enlightened. This future will only be limited by our own imagination, but it will take these three parts working together (four if you include Windows 10) to make something truly revolutionary.