From Shared to Personal to…

Amazon and Microsoft seem to be making a play towards shared computing, again…

Two things have come out recently, and both are very much related. The first is the Amazon Echo Show — which is a mini desktop computer thing with a camera meant to be kept somewhere convenient, but clearly not well seen since it is ugly. However, the idea is that this is a shared internet appliance as with the other Echo devices — you use it to aid you throughout the day without having to touch a device. So think like cooking recipes, or older people wanting a central video phone — which never works out well for companies.

The second thing is a potential new feature for Windows, The Verge’s Tom Warren explains:

The major addition is a new welcome screen that includes an “always on” digital corkboard to let families use to-do lists, calendars, and notes. The welcome screen is really designed for kitchen PCs and new smaller hardware with screens that will support Cortana voice commands from across the room. Microsoft appears to be readying Windows 10 for future devices that are similar to Amazon’s new Echo Show hardware, with easy access to voice search, calling, and smart device control. Microsoft’s differentiator is that it wants these devices to be considered full Windows 10 PCs.

You might notice a few things about these two “new” ideas:

  1. Neither Apple, Facebook, or Google are involved.
  2. They both are made to be shared and in central locations within a home.
  3. They are decidedly not how technology currently works in all popular iterations.

The current state of computing seemingly runs counter to the notion of shared computing. Our devices, at current, are highly personal devices and often shared only as a last resort. I think a good case could be made that even in a life and death situation a not insignificant amount of people would not share their phone passcode.

This wasn’t always the case though…

Let’s start with the home telephone line (the Echo Show places an odd emphasis on calling, so I’ll start there) and many households started with one line, perhaps even just one phone, that everyone shared. This of course moved to perhaps there being two lines coming into a home, with the second being dedicated to kids or a dial up modem. And now it’s far more common that everyone has a cell phone with a data plan, or uses the home WiFi network for all communication — what’s a shared phone? We don’t even have shared pay phones anymore — that’s how common the notion is that everyone has a phone on them at all times.

The same transition happened with computing to an even larger extreme. We had the family desktop, shared by everyone with just one account on the machine — you could view any files anyone else had made. Then maybe we acquired a computer for the kids in the house, sent them off to college with a computer of their own even. And then laptops got to the price point where they were affordable enough, and necessary enough, that most high school and older aged kids started having them — and parents — less sharing now. This was great because you no longer needed shared spaces, and large spaces, to use a computer. Then e-readers entered the scene. Then Tablets, Smart Phones, and more Laptops — each person in the home becoming even more likely to have their own of each device, each with a passcode and private data.

And now Amazon and Microsoft want us to loop back to a shared device? That seems unlikely. Would you rather share your iMac, or your iOS device, even if the iOS device had multi-user support, you’d likely share your iMac first. The reason for this is because the iMac feels like a less personal device and devices in general have become highly personal the more you diverge from a traditional desktop.

In fact, I have a quick test to determine if a device is meant to be highly personal or not: If the device comes in colors, it’s meant to be personal. iPhones, iPads, MacBooks — all things you would be reluctant to hand over to a stranger to use for even a moment — even reluctant to let a good friend or family member use. But a home phone? An desktop computer? Yeah sure, why the fuck not. Whatever.

And I don’t see that trend reversing either.

So I have to wonder where Google, Apple, and Facebook sit on this. For these three companies, they seem to look at computing as highly personal — and that seems to fit with their best interests.

Take Google, we all know they want your data to serve you better ads. So a shared device dilutes their data in a way which it becomes less valuable. In a sense, the worst data Google gets is from shared home computers. I have to think that shared computing, then, is by and large not good for Google’s bottom line. Which is why the Google Home setup is interesting — how are they going to shift their business model to this? Then again, Google seems to want to be in every space and they will figure out how to make money from those once they get big enough to care about.

Facebook: Like Google, Facebook needs and wants that data to be highly personal. A shared Facebook account is not nearly as profitable as individual accounts. But, can they afford not to be on these shared devices? I highly doubt it. The problem they will keep facing here is that they need the data to be as personably as possible, while still being everywhere collecting it.

For Apple’s part, they want to sell you stuff. As much stuff as possible, so shared anything is bad for Apple. Buy more stuff, not fewer things. So colors are not only a way of getting people to buy more things, but making the devices feel like they cannot be shared.

All of this brings me back to those machines, and the long desired shared iPad setup with multi-user support. I don’t think any of them take reality into consideration. The reality is that I don’t want me contacts, my calendar, or my todos shared in bulk in any arena where another person might get to them. Sure, it would be nice to have a shared family calendar, but a shared device for that seems absurd. Anyone in my family can pick up their devices and see the shared family calendar right now — without me having to share my device, weaken my privacy, or buy a purpose built device.

Which is why, while neat, these types of shared computing platforms are going to have to hope for a shift in the way we have come to use technology today. And I don’t see that shift happening given the current state of technology.

Then again, I didn’t think I would have something that was a flat piece of glass I could work off of every day for hours on end. So that’s another data point…

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