The Digital Decade gives way to what? See the CES Keynote on Weds

This year (once again) Bill Gates will be giving the keynote on Weds at 6.30pm Pacific (more details available on the website) at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). I have seen this show grow considerably over the last 10+ years, as I recall visiting the show long before the PC was a staple in the home. Looking at the incredible convergence we have seen over the last few years between various devices in the home and the personal computer (as we’re seeing the Media Center and the Xbox evolve into central entertainment points for the home), tomorrow’s keynote will be a good use of bandwidth for the webcast.

A couple of years ago, Bill touted the Digital Decade as an evolutionary time where the personal computer enabled more personal computing. Now we’re looking at how we move from the convergence of these devices (enabling seamless and pervasive computing experiences) to a true personal experience. It’s not just about computing, it’s about what you do with the content and the entertainment; you don’t want to spend your time working on the convergence and connectivity pieces between your devices – that should just work. You want your content — whether it’s TV, music, books, movies, articles, web media, photos — available when and where you want it, without having to worry about whether you have the right sync cable or if you  deleted the shows you watched and made room for the new ones you wanted to see.

The next few years should be less of being a sysop or network administrator at home (as I still am today for our family, managing the WiFi network, updating drivers, sync’ing content and backing up PCs), and more about being able to consume what you want where and when you want – whether it’s via your laptop on a plane, catching up via your Smartphone at the shuttle stop or on your way to work in your car (via voice navigation and text to speech). Today I interact with devices more naturally than five years ago, issuing commands to my phone to dial and get mail, to dictating to my PC (albeit not as fast as I can type… yet). 

Aside from improvements in voice command technology, one new way of interacting with devices coming sooner than later is via gesture. For Christmas, my son received a rudimentary motion tracking game which works quite well, enabling him (at 4, mind you) to access menu commands and a variety of moves and commands. Very cool, and all for less than $40, including the game, peripherals and video interface which sits atop the TV. It seems to be only a matter of time when I won’t need a green button remote to command my media center PC, navigating through the guide or to watch my recorded shows.

Some people (no pointing fingers at anyone, W.) have said that the “Digital Decade” is already history, a whopping three years or so since Bill’s CES keynote.

That’s rubbish. (With all due respect, of course.)

We’re barely at the halfway mark, still at a point where we need to push the innovation envelope and demand more from the experience, to make it less PC and more appliance and ubiquitous. We’re slowly moving to a point where computers start to disappear, but I’ll be surprised if the form factor and paradigm, of having a PC device, goes away by 2010. The experience is still not as integrated and seamless as it could be on workhorse PCs (like my media center or laptop) as I still spend too much time managing the “seamless experience” for my family (and sometimes, for friends and neighbours).

It’s been 10 years living with Windows, and 10 years before that living with the Macintosh, and before that with an assortment of interfaces. I expect it will take another few years to make the jump to where I can take down up my netop shingle.

I now have an incredible amount of CPU power available to me, almost enough to render and transcode video in real-time without $50K systems, with enough disk space to house my CD collection and favorite TV shows, and adequate networking to move the bits to all the computers (and a few devices) in the home… and when needed, extending the experience on the road. And yes, simple CE devices in my home rival the power of PCs just a few years ago, with these simple machines recording my TV shows, streaming my music and managing my back-ups. (Not to mention handling my phone calls.)

If the next few years of the Decade are as successful as the last few, we will see great improvements in personalization, entertainment management and integrated communications, all with advanced and seamless interfaces. Expand on the improvements seen in Xbox 360, Media Center 2005, MSN, TV, SQL, and in the coming Windows Vista, Office 12 and beyond. We will also need to improve and expand upon the customer support, on-line assistance and feedback systems to help our customers and partners make these jumps, take these dives into new products and technology.

Bringing computers to the masses outside the first world is one of the next big barriers to cross. Perhaps the Digital Decade will not only be about making the experience more seamless, but about bridging the digital divide that exists still in many places in this country as well as abroad. (More on that later.)

At the end of the last decade I was working on time-shifted television and digitizing audio and video, technologies now common place. The innovative trends in 2006 — and through the rest of the decade — never seen before will, I hope, be as astonishing as the rush I felt a little over 20 years ago when I first fired up MacPaint on a 128k Mac, dialing up at 300 baud to Compuserve. I expect we’ll see some of the shape of things to come this next week at CES and over the coming year.

Until then, Happy New Year.