Make computers disappear from every desk and every home

Disclaimer: As everything else in this blog, what follows is my personal opinion!

It shouldn’t be news to anyone that Ballmer is retiring from Microsoft. What follows is not about the past or present. It’s a quick note about how I personally see the future and Microsoft’s opportunity to shape it.

Even in the late 90s, when I was asked about the future of computing, my response was… “computers need to disappear from our lives”. These days I choose to work on projects that take us towards a world in which technology is kept well hidden from us and only surfaces through ubiquitous user experiences. Experiences that allow us to access the world’s knowledge, perform tasks, consume services, and augment every aspect of our lives. It’s not a deep or even original insight. SciFi writers, designers, technology visionaries over the decades have already talked about the rise of personal assistants, of invisible computers, of natural user interfaces. Consider… Vannevar Bush‘s Memex, StarTrek’s omnipresent computer, HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and so much more from science, pop culture, science fiction. Many of the ideas are already becoming a reality… Google Now, 3D printers, wearables/implants, etc. etc. Many more are still unexplored.

“The latest strategy that has been publicly communicated amounts to ‘Microsoft is a devices and services company.’ That’s tantamount to Disney saying it’s a ‘theme park and film company.'” (Aaron Levie, “Microsoft’s Next Era“)

As I was reading Aaron’s critique of Microsoft’s latest “devices and services” rhetoric, I was thinking… what should Microsoft’s future mission statement be? We currently have: “help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential”. Erm… boring. Our old statement, “A computer on every desk and in every home” served us well in the 90s. So, to what should the new Microsoft leader change our mission statement? Do we even need one?

It goes without saying that the title of this note can’t be a mission statement :-) Computers are disappearing from our desks anyway. Today, it’s all about tablets and smartphones. I argue, however, that these devices are merely helping us through a quick transition to an era of ubiquitous computing in which our homes, our cars, our clothes, our skins become conduits of information access and communication. Silo applications are no longer necessary. As I wrote before in the “Convergence of User Experiences” post, personal assistants will become the frontend for all our digital activities, whether in the consumer or the enterprise space.

Ray Ozzie talked about the 3 screens and the cloud many years ago. It’s obvious that many companies are already realizing that vision. Now we need to add wearables and implants into the collection of how users experience the digital world.

Microsoft’s new leader needs to position the company for the future, not the present. We need to start thinking about a world without computers, tablets, or phones. A future where knowledge, not just information, is at our fingerprints.

Do we even need a mission statement? Apple doesn’t seem to have nor need one.

I think Microsoft should focus on some important ingredients:

  • Design experiences for tomorrow, deliver them today;
  • Continuously reinvent, iterate, deliver experiences that delight;
  • Be a trusted companion in every aspect of our lives.

Anyway… just some thoughts.