In a keynote at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today, Eric Schmidt, who will step down as CEO of Google in April, sounded as if he's already expanding his horizons. "The goal of everything we're doing is so I can spend more time with the people in my life, exploring new places, and living life,"he said.
Schmidt was ostensibly talking about how technology, and mobile technology in particular, should help free us to spend more time doing things we enjoy and engaging in the world around us. "I've come to a new view," he said. "It's going to get to the point where technology is serving humans and not the other way around."
But given that he'll be handing over the reins to Google co-founder Larry Page, it also sounds like Schmidt is starting to embrace his future role as the company's big picture-guy when he becomes executive chairman in a couple of months. Instead of the day-to-day manager of a $29 billion-a-year corporate giant, it could be the debut of a more visionary, philosophical sort of Eric Schmidt.
His keynote message, though, sounds strangely familiar. It echoes the launch campaign for Windows Phone 7, which used the tag line, "It's time for a phone to save us from our phones" and ran TV spots showing people so consumed by their smartphones they failed notice anything happening immediately around them.
The idea was that Microsoft's new mobile platform lets you quickly and easily get the information you need so you could get back to living your life. HTC's "You" campaign, emphasizing personalization through its line of Android-powered mobile devices, carries a similar theme.
Those efforts dovetailed with Schmidt's talk Tuesday focusing on technology as a time-saver rather than an end in itself. That doesn't mean he didn't tout any Android devices, pulling out a Nexus S at one point, and demonstrating a new video-editing app called Movie Studio for the new Android-based Xoom tablet from Motorola.
But Schmidt wasn't really there to hawk gadgets -- but to portray a future where mobile technology, including Android's, meets every human need. "You're never lonely, there are always people with you. You're never bored because there are things to do, and we can suggest things for you to do. You're never out of ideas because we can suggest ideas," he explained.
Uh-oh. That's when Schmidt veers into creepy, Big Brother-is-watching territory, with Google ever aware of our every move and spare moment. All that data sifted anonymously, of course, because Google wouldn't think of encroaching on anyone's privacy.
In focusing more on "technology thought leadership," in the coming months, Schmidt should consider that even if technology should serve humans instead of the reverse, there's a limit to how much technology can do for us. In his remarks, he suggested that besides using phones for talking and finding information, they could serve as a "serendipity platform" that would help people learn things and meet people they might not otherwise.
But his evocation of a mobile-guided utopia actually seems to leave little room for serendipity or accidental discovery or invention. Sometimes, people might actually want to search for something or go somewhere without consulting Google first.
Eric needs to change his hobby - graffiti is a start.
Mobile "everything" is simply the ability to tether your access device to your physical mobility - no need to check in to a computer to engage.
Whether this is good or bad requires observing human habits and how they change - fast food industry e.g.
I believe that technology will eventually eliminate proprietary solutions based on a device - ubiquitous mobile access will become the norm.
MIT Labs is exploring how rudimentary devices can be combined into one "xomputer" that delivers everything: projector, virtual keypads, wearable storage, GPRS, camera, voice recognition, haptics and so on.
That ultimate device will eventually become an accessory for people on the go. Everything else will be a cloud service with free and premium pricing.
It could also put a wooden stake in the misguided goal of funding such services through advertising.
After all, you don't need to see ads if you buy a piece of jewelry or buy expensive shoes. Fashion pricing will overcome geek services pricing. Trust me. The future..