Looking over the horizon

As the holiday season starts to wind down (I got back from mine last week), my mind is turning to what the next year holds in the technology sphere and what we’ll be covering here on Next at Microsoft.

As I look back over the last 10 months or so since we started this blog, I’ve covered a wide variety of subjects and themes – many of which I’ll continue with but I also expect to narrow the focus somewhat. My aim has always been to pull back the curtain a little and show you some of the people and places and glimpses of what is being built. Those two themes will continue as every week I meet fascinating new people who are doing remarkable things with technology and I’m always stumbling across places that I think go against the conventional wisdom of what Microsoft offices are like. Two recent examples of these would be Sheridan Martin Small and our newly redesigned Building 4.


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A number of trends in technology have also emerged as key themes since we launched. The most important of those has been Natural User Interface (or NUI) and that will continue as a major theme. Kinect, Windows Phone, Xbox, Windows, Bing all have NUI stories to be told and there is a ton of work going on in Microsoft Research to continue to achieve our ambitions of making technology more natural and less intimidating. Watching my nephew play Fruit Ninja over the last few weeks was a reminder of the fun side of this and projects like KinectFusion show that we’re really just scratching the surface of what’s possible with Kinect right now. Success in this realm is about making technology invisible.

As I think about other themes and the focus on /Next, I was reminded of three posts I read recently that led me to pause and think about what we’ll cover here.


The first post was from Dylan Love on Business Insider and posed the question What Does The Future Of Personal Computers Look Like? to a number of eminent tech folks. There wasn’t much consistency in their answers and at times it felt like the future they posited was here now – but there were some great insights in there such as nobody predicting netbooks, technology disappearing (see above), and the merging of form factors. Frank Shaw has written recently about the much debated “post PC” era and I think that discussion is one that’ll see lots of ink over the next year. I’ll be using some of that (digital) ink here on /Next.


The second post was by Eric Smalley on CNET’s CRAVE blog. He discussed Gartner’s 2011 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies which is always a fun read. Though I think it’s odd that NUI doesn’t register as a trend, a number of the underlying technologies that will make NUI a reality are in the Technology Trigger stage – image recognition, natural language, big data, etc. Gesture recognition is about to enter the trough of disillusionment, though I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’ll be saved somewhat from that by what is known as multi-modal input. When you combine gesture with speech, for example, you get a very powerful and natural interaction model. Just think about how you buy a cake in a shop – you point at it and say “I’d like that one”. Now apply that to searching on the web, Internet TV and large scale displays at work and home. Things get interesting very quickly. 

A number of technologies are positioned further out than I would expect, for example the Internet of Things (IOT), positioned as 5-10 years from mainstream adoption. I’m going to bet that the timeframe is smaller than that and IOT is another theme we’ll continue with here on /Next. As Eric says, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Hype Cycle is really designed for CIO’s looking to get a sense of when technology becomes mainstream rather than when is it on the bleeding edge. I agree with Eric that Bill Buxton’s Long Nose theory may be more appropriate for avid technology watchers, in that most “breakthroughs” have usually been around for 20 years or so.

I’ll steer clear of most other topics on the curve but in the world of mobile, NFC will be fascinating to watch and Quantum Computing while way, way out there, may make a cameo here in the next 12 months.


(Credit: Gartner)


The third and final post was from Heidi Sinclair in the Huffington Post. Titled The Innovation Age Starts Now: Let’s Make it Matter it really got me thinking about some of the focus for this blog over the next year. There is always a temptation to cover the news, both from Microsoft and the industry at large but many other sites already do that very well. For Microsoft related news, look no further than my colleagues at News Center who do this on a daily basis as well as our social channels on Facebook and YouTube and myriad blogs, my recent favorite being the Windows 8 blog (aka B8) and of course Channel 9. There are many other “Microsoft watcher” sites and I personally enjoy reading Tom Warren, Long Zheng, Todd Bishop, Mary Jo Foley and a few others – in addition to watching sites of competitors and of course Techmeme.

So what should the focus of this blog be in a sea of great coverage? Well, I see a gap to talk more about the impact of technology – Heidi mentions the impact of email on the environment and how technology is driving medical advances. While I don’t envisage this blog becoming all green and medical oriented, I do think there is room for more stories – like the one about Kinect helping autistic kids at Lakeside Center for Autism. 

There is room to celebrate technology a little more and Heidi said it far more eloquently than I can

It is time for us to elevate our conversation from speeds and feeds and competitive features to one of how technologies are applied to daily life. We are no longer in the Information Age. We are now in what I and others are calling the Innovation Age. Where innovation impacts everything. Innovation by nature is a state of constant change. We need to understand that impact, and ensure that innovation is seen as an engine for positive progress globally. This means we need to talk less about features and more about how technology truly can impact our world and our lives.

So expect a few more stories of this kind and feel free to send any you have my way…but for the technology lovers, don’t worry, I’ll still be shining a light on the latest and greatest, coolest technology and people at Microsoft. As normal, expect my torch to be pointed at a different angle to others.