What will Google’s GDrive mean for computer design?

Google Drive may end hardware-performance anxiety, but our libidinal tech desires will see the computer surviving in other forms, says Emily Pacey

We could all soon be living in an Orwellian nightmare in which individuality disappears – well, from computer hardware, at least – according to Samsung creative manager Clive Goodwin.

Goodwin is imagining the potential impact of Google Drive on computer design. The GDrive, which is expected to launch this year, will allow our personal files, programs and applications, pictures, videos and Web history to be held on the Internet instead of on hard drives, and it represents the ultimate form of ‘cloud-computing’.

‘What is and what is not a computer will become blurred,’ says Patrick Hunt, creative director of product design group Therefore. ‘Once you have all your data stored remotely, it will make it easier to use anything – your TV, kitchen appliances, pretty much anything – as a window on to your personal data.’

Having been in the rumour mill for several years, the GDrive is scheduled to arrive in cyberspace at the same time as advances in screen technology that have been brewing for decades. With no need for a hard drive, and using screens less than 0.5mm thick, computers could dissolve into the merest slip of physical substance. Sony launched its ultra-thin 0.3mm-thick organic LED screen last autumn, while Samsung intends to unveil the world’s first mobile phone with a mini-projector, the w7900, in South Korea soon. ‘The idea that products of the future will just be super-thin displays fails to account for the fact that we like to think of ourselves as individuals,’ says Goodwin. ‘The emotional connection we carry with our devices is deeply ingrained in our psyches. The idea that we will all carry the same screens, only in different sizes, is just too Orwellian.’

Without a substantial physical hook, where will we hang our libidinal tech-product desires?

Hunt believes that the next stage is obvious. ‘The freeing of computers from the constraints of a PC will throw up amazing opportunities to design rich and intuitive interfaces,’ he says.

‘I think that the nomadic approach that users have will continue, and intuition will become increasingly important. We did not evolve as humans to type, so computers would be far better suited to being controlled by voice and handwriting,’ he says.

Essentially, it comes down to input and output, explains Bill Moggridge, co-founder of Ideo and designer of the first laptop computer, the Compass for Grid, in 1980.

‘Goodbye keyboard, goodbye mouse? Will LCD and plasma displays go the way of cathode ray tubes?,’ ponders Moggridge, sitting in his office in Ideo’s global headquarters in Silicon Valley, California.

‘After 20 years, people have just about given up on voice and handwriting inputs, but that often seems to be the time when new technology takes off,’ he adds.

Moggridge is sceptical about the future of touch technology as we know it. ‘At the moment, we are living through a rush to touch-screen inputs, triggered by recent successes, but our fingers are big, and tend to get in the way, however diligently we are flicking and sliding,’ he says.

Tempering the vision of a future in which we use voice-activated roll-up screens to access all our personal files online is Ray Hammond, author of The World in 2030. He believes that privacy is such an issue that hard drives will remain.

‘People are naturally conservative about issues such as money and their daily itineraries,’ he says. ‘As a result, there will be private storage, even if it is just a memory stick. Twenty years ago, people said that money would no longer exist and everyone would be using plastic, but people still don’t trust plastic as much as they trust coins and notes.’

Hammond adds, ‘Let’s just hope that a reliable, fast and affordable Internet is just around the corner.’

Computers in 2009:

• The personal computer is ‘already a dinosaur’, according to futurologist Ray Hammond

• Launched last January, Apple’s MacBook Air is ‘a glimpse of the future’, according to Clive Goodwin, creative manager at Samsung

• A new species of computer, the netbook, launched last year. The netbook resembles a miniature laptop, but it relies heavily on remote access to Web-based applications

• Mobile phones and other handheld devices are propelling themselves into competition with larger-screened rival devices, with innovations such as ultra-thin organic LED roll-out screens and mini-projectors

• Samsung is set to launch the w7900, the world’s first mobile phone with an OLED screen and a mini-projector, in South Korea

• Google is rumoured to be launching its highly anticipated GDrive online storage system this year. In theory, this could rid computers of the need for hard drives, creating a paradigm shift in the way we use computers

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