A Window Into The Future Of The Web

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 10, 2015
The Web is changing. It’s becoming a thinner, personalized, pervasive, ambient, assistive layer that weaves into our life. So what new opportunities does this create?

If a technology is profound enough, it fades into the background and we take it for granted, but this takes time.  We’re not there yet.

We talk about the Internet like it’s a thing. In fact, sometimes it seems as if we have several Internets. We have the mobile Web, the rest of the Web (sometimes oddly just called online) and, increasingly, the Internet of things.

Microsoft’s track record of understanding the future isn’t strong. Steve Balmer literally belly-laughed at the arrival of the iPhone — and with it, the way the smartphone has transformed so much of our lives. Bill Gates showed no signs of understanding how the Internet would change things.

Yet surprisingly, the recent Windows 10 launch shows signs of a company that understands how the Web will evolve and change our behavior and relationships.



Windows 10 is a software platform designed to work with any device. It's about a single app store with apps that work on every screen. it’s about responsive design with everything optimized to that context. This is a whole new way to design for the world.

The first tranche of technology was single-use machines optimized for one need: VHS players for videos, TVs, word processors, everything was about doing one thing well.

The digitization of media made made anything possible, providing a world of digital convergence where our TVs, tablets, smartphones and laptops all dispelled newspapers, TV shows, music, etc., giving access to pretty much everything ever made by anyone, in any form.

The next iteration of the Internet will be a boundless cloud storing everything. It will be a series of browser and app-based frames that pull through personalized, context-optimized information specific to that person, device and moment in time. We need to think of our devices as relatively dumb, specific frames and contexts to pull through information.

We also need to think of new navigation -- and increasingly, a Web of apps. If we consider apps as tight frames that isolate key personal information and display it via APIs and logins, if we see how app linking and more advanced APIs pull information from other apps, our navigation changes.  We no longer use menus and choices to navigate to specific layers deep in the internet. Instead we surf the top, we move from app to app, personalized information pulled through for that moment. We rely less on search and more on information being pulled to us.

We need to ideate what the app store for the car screen will look like. We should design for the home with smart mirrors, develop ideas for apps for the smart TV. What becomes of TV channels, how do we navigate content, what role do recommendations have? What new business models will be created? Will there be real-time special offers for the car dashboard? Fridges provided for free by grocery stores that automatically reorder empty items from those supermarkets?

For the moment, though, all companies still think in terms of devices. We align media channels separately, talk about e-commerce and mobile commerce as if they are meaningfully different. We’ve ignored what the proliferation of new screens will mean.

The Web becomes tactile and immersive

We’ve generally liked to keep technology away from us. Bluetooth headsets likely failed because they looked like a step towards trans-humanism. The Apple watch and wearables may suffer the same fate. We like screens at an arm’s distance.

Yet from voice control to gesture controls, facial recognition to retina scanning, the Internet and the user interface is starting to become more tactile and immersive.   Windows 10 will let you log in to your computer just by getting a look at your face, the new Edge browser offers scribbling mode that lets you annotate webpages, and all Windows devices are optimized for gesture and touch control.

This is a little glance into the world where the Internet feels more personal, more like a extension of ourselves. Next time we think of apps to create for our clients, or new advertising units, let’s consider this immersion. How do we use voice, gestures, smiles or movements of the phone to control and engage in our communication?

The Web becomes personal and flows around us

The Internet is slowly becoming unbundled from devices and arranged around people.

Apple’s Safari reading lists don’t care if it’s your iPad, MacBook or iPhone, and DirectTV lets you pick up the movie where you left off on your phone. Microsoft is taking this vision further. Now activity on Windows 10 will be remembered across phone, laptop, games console, TV viewing, Hololens headset and anything else they invent.

This seems helpful for the moment, but the true potential comes when screens combine to work together. Easy wins are car directions automatically loaded from Google maps, or money from vouchers sent from TV ads to your phone -- but the opportunities are way more profound when we think about every screen being optimized around you and working together.

The Web as an ambient assistive layer

Predictive assistants like Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Now -- and, to a lesser extent Apple’s Siri -- offer proactive help. They see where we are, where we need to be, what the weather is like, what the traffic conditions are, and they offer real-time, personalized suggestions.

Windows 10 Cortana now has access to all our data across all our devices and all live information pulled from the Web, offering support in mobile, tablet and desktop.  If advertising is about the right message at the right time and for the right person, has there ever been a more profound way to impart messages to people?

A move to products that get better in time.

With the exception of red wine and jeans, things usually get worse as they age, especially technology. Our PCs and phones became obsolete as new versions grew faster. Yet from Tesla to iPhone and now Windows, a whole new way of thinking about devices as improvable machines, as updatable software layers, should be starting to reframe how we think about ownership and products as a service.

These changes are profound. They offer brand-new ways to think about business, advertising, marketing and commerce. They create wild new opportunities and existential threats.

Yet we are not built for these changes. Companies of all nature are siloed around the behaviors and structure of the last century. They work around channels and business units that make no sense in the online world.

We need to rearrange and rebuild for a future where the Internet makes everything and anything possible, where the storefront is everywhere, where the internet is a ambient assistive layer, where software helps us decide.

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