This article was published in MIT's Technologyreview.es, September 2012
Hyperconnected: Scatter Cushion Computing
The title of this article, as strange as it seems, is intuitively familiar for all of us. It refers to the pervasive phenomena of mobile computing proliferation and the growing use of multiple screens in our daily lives.
I learnt about this concept, originally coined by Deloitte, during a panel discussion I participated at Deloitte’s European TMT (Technology, Media & Telecommunications) summit, held in September, in Dusseldorf, Germany.
The multi-screen phenomena, i.e.: simultaneous use of different screens and devices is well known. Just peek into the living room of any house at prime time and you will see the family scattered around on cushions switching their attention among the telly, their smartphone, tablet or a PC/Mac.
According to a recent study from Ipsos-Sterling 90% of all media consumption happens across different screens versus a shrinking 10% still rendered on paper and over other traditional media, such as radio.
38% out of the 90% multi-screen media consumption occurs on a smartphone.
Furthermore, TV is no longer the main screen grabbing our attention, and more than 77% of the time we spend watching it we also use another device simultaneously.
In half of those cases, the usual suspect is a smartphone, however, as many as 34%, multitask on a PC or laptop instead of eating popcorns while watching their favourite movie.
Another use case of multiple screens usage can be found in youngsters and teenagers.
The typical set up of a teenager’s room includes a PC or Mac, acting as a mainframe, with one or even two monitors attached, one or even two smartphones, a tablet in some cases, a portable game console(Nintendo DS or similar), a hardcore game console (Xbox, PS3 or Wii), and, in many cases, the house’s second TV.
Behind the hardware, on the apps side, they have Facebook, Skype, a Messenger app on their PC/Mac, and the browser open with multiple tabs, a search page and YouTube to start with. On their smartphone; WhatsApp, Viber, BBM or a similar IM (Instant Messaging) app and, if they are studying, they will have google docs, a pdf reader or word editor open as well, all of these running at the same time, and, on top of it all, they randomly look at TV or jump into a quick match on their game console.
78% of the time we spend multi-screening is dedicated to completely different and unrelated tasks. For instance, 42% of us browse social networks while watching TV, and an astonishing 60% send emails simultaneously.
In both scenarios, the TV centric living room, and the teenager multi-screen immersive place, the motivation patterns are similar. A combination of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and a self-realization need based on ego-driven content make us joggle among multiple devices, screens, apps and services.
In all cases, in the environment described, everything tends to gravitate around the smartphone. Beyond sequential use of screens (starting a task in a smartphone and finishing it in a PC), multitasking, or, managing multiple apps running at the same time, the smartphone is increasingly becoming a critical factor from an end user’s experience point of view.
Current platforms and operating systems in smartphones today are not properly optimized to run multiple processes in parallel. Hardware resources (CPU, GPU, RAM, display) focus on the active application to appeal the user with sophisticated graphics flow, thus relegating critical multitasking processes like inter-apps invocation to the background.
Today’s in and out app paradigm, with users forced to turn to a central or side button to access dormant apps if they want to switch between them, won’t be enough to cope with the ever increasing need to handle hyper connectivity of the many devices and things around, aka IoT (Internet of Things).
Cars, home appliances, automation systems, TVs, game consoles, refrigerators, even coffee machines are connecting to the internet and the apps hub in our smartphone needs to handle interactions with all of those in real time, and on the go.
If you add the IoT factor, to the average 41 apps a smartphone user owns today according to Nielsen, the multitasking functionality becomes critical, thus forcing the industry to evolve current OS (Operating System) and mobile platforms to reliably, and securely manage heavy multitasking processes.
In the embedded OS world this is called RT OS (Real Time Operating Systems), and the ideal architecture is based on a nimble micro-kernel core managing hardware and software resources more efficiently to serve multiple parallel requests.
Welcome to a brave new Mobile Hyper connected X-multitasking world.