Remember that line near the end of The Aviator when Howard Hughes says (repeatedly) “…it’s the way of the future…the way of the future…the way of the future…”?

Well, what is the way of the future?…as it relates to technology, that is.  Especially personal technology.  The stuff you see and touch every day.  I’m talking about the hardware first: desktop/notebook/tablet computers, mobile phones, e-readers, MP3 players, CD players and jukeboxes, DVD and BluRay players, media players, game consoles, televisions, surround sound systems, cable and satellite boxes and DVR’s, printers, scanners, analog phones, and whatever other devices you have crammed into your life.  And, I’m taking about the software required to run all those devices.  Yes…they all depend on software to operate (except that old POTS phone some of us keep for emergency situations).

Of course, what I’m about to say here is not news to most readers, and the future I’m talking about is not very far away…we might as well just go ahead and say the future is now.  This is in progress.  But, I want to eventually make a point.  So, please bear with me…

There’s an obvious convergence under way; a convergence of (let’s call it fixed) computing, networking, mobile technologies, and entertainment.  This has been going on for quite some time…at least a decade…and accelerates as broadband internet access becomes more and more ubiquitous. Accessibility is driving applications and thus driving development of always-on devices such as smart phones, tablet computers, and internet connected entertainment devices.

Accessibility has been driving development of online services (software-as-a-service, or SaaS) offerings for more than a decade.  The scalability and storage requirements associated with SaaS has led to cloud computing, cloud storage, and new offerings such as platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).  The combination of network accessibility, SaaS, and cloud storage is driving development of web-based devices and software, such a Google’s Chrome OS and associated to-be-released devices.

We’re seeing development of specialized devices with embedded operating systems and applications. This is most apparent in the white-hot entertainment space where RokuBoxee, PopBox, Apple, and Google all have released (or will release in the next couple of months) set top boxes that provide access to online movies, internet TV, and internet audio sites.  Game consoles and some televisions and BluRay players have network connectivity and online media access capabilities built in.

You can see similar convergence in the mobile space.  Smart phones look more and more like general purpose devices every day.  Your phone can be a still camera, video camera, video player, music player, GPS, web browser, remote control, and…phone.  Tablet computers look like notebook computers without keyboards.  Make them small enough and they start to look like mobile phones.  Add a blue-tooth keyboard and a tablet looks like a notebook computer, or even a desktop.  Add another display and a tablet computer starts to look like a book (yes…take a look at Kno).

Where is all this leading?  TV’s look like computers.  Phones look like computers.  Computers look like TV’s and phones.  Everything is online…devices, applications and content.

Here’s where we’re headed…

CD, DVD, and BluRay media (and probably most books) will go the way of vinyl records and cassette tapes and will disappear.  Content will be freely available for streaming, rented for single play, made available through subscription services (like Netflix), or available for purchase and download (like iTunes).  A purchase will (eventually) not involve download or local storage of content.  Instead, a license will be purchased that allows unlimited perpetual access to an online version.

Over the air television and radio broadcasting will shift to network delivery.  Cable and satellite companies will follow suit and move to on-demand IP network delivery of content.  Wired communications will give way to wireless.  All communications shift to wireless IP-based networking.

The linear programming models of network TV and radio will move to user-driven on-demand self scheduling via ad-hoc access and playlists.  Media players and/or online services will assist users in finding content based on their interests and recommendations by their online community.  Search will not be the primary means of finding content.

There will continue to be content creators.  (In fact, there will be more independent content created.)  But, the distribution model changes…shifts to an online on-demand model.  Analog delivery methods go away (physical media, over the air broadcasting, current cable and satellite delivery).

All those media players you currently own will be come obsolete.  The radio tuner in your receiver, the tuner in your TV, the CD/DVD/BluRay players, the cable box, the satellite box…they will all merge together into a network connected media access and rendering device similar to the BoxeeBox, AppleTV and others mentioned above.  Maybe these capabilities will be merged into display devices, especially televisions.  If we consider smart phones and tablet devices to be all-in-one computers and displays, then it seems likely that televisions will become simply larger all-in-one devices.  Of course, the lack of a multi-touch television screen will be an issue, so we will likely see multi-touch remote controls (like this) designed to give big screen viewers the same kind of interface they have on their smaller devices.

eReaders will be replaced by, or morph into, tablet computers.  Text books will be replaced by tablet computers (see Kno).  Hard-copy books will (except for special editions) be replaced by eBooks. Newspapers and magazines will soon follow suit.

Applications will continue to move online.  Your computer needs little more than a browser and supporting software (operating system, networking, media players, display drivers) to provide all the functionality a typical user requires.  Online applications can provide the rest…email, word processing, spreadsheets, drawing, financial, etc.  Some users that are original content creators (graphic artists, photographers, musicians, programmers, engineers) may need more significant local resources (hardware and software), but most users can get by quite happily with an embedded operating systems such as Chrome OS.

Voice communication will move away from POTS service and toward voice over IP or Skype-like services.  Dual cameras in mobile phones and tablets support video calling.

Printers and scanners will reside on the home network, supporting shared and remote (print from anywhere) access.

So, here we are…in the future.  All forms of analog media distribution and communication have been replaced by more efficient always-on IP networking.  Mobile phones, tablet computers, notebook/desktop replacements, and perhaps even televisions all look like all-in-one computers in small, medium, large, and extra-large sizes.  In the home theater, you may have a media access device; you will likely still have a surround-sound system.  Mix and match components will likely be with us in high-end systems for quite some time to come.  These computers run an embedded operating system and provide browser (or browser-like) access to online content and applications.

The future home network includes a gateway that provides remote access to the devices within.  Print from anywhere.  Access network-connected cameras and see what’s happening at home.  Access your home control system to adjust the temperature or turn on the security system.

This whole eco-system makes a lot of sense, and is very likely where we’ll be in the not-too-distant future.  But, there’s one piece that’s missing.

Where do I keep the content that I create?  Where do I store my photos, videos, documents, spreadsheets, and similar files that I create?  One could argue (and I’m sure application providers will) that you should store your files near the applications that you use to create and edit them.  If the applications are in the cloud, then your data should be in the cloud as well.  But, what about interoperability?  What if I use different providers for email and word processing?  How do I attach a document that I created with a Windows Live application to an email I’m writing with Gmail?  I’m sure the service providers will argue that this is not a problem as long as you use the integrated set of applications from a single vendor.  But, that’s simply an unrealistic view of how users will access these services.  There are all kinds of interoperability and comparability issues to consider.  Add to this the complexity and cost of multiple application providers and data stored at multiple locations, and most people will become confused and frustrated.

If I have to store my photos on one site, videos somewhere else, email at another, financial records somewhere else, and on and on, that sounds frustrating.  Why can’t I store all of my content in a central location?  And…easily access it from all the online apps I use.

Interoperability is the biggest problem with the cloud model.

I think a better approach would be to give consumers control of their storage.  Let them create their own cloud storage.  Put a storage device on their home network and provide transparent access to it from any device (or service) they use.  Simple.  Easy to understand.  Transparent.  All in one place.