Pew Parts the Clouds and Sees the Obvious

Pew Internet, which does predictable surveys that often come up with predictable findings about many things digital, says the future of computing is Internet-based. At the risk of offending many, including my mother, I would just like to say: no shit. One doesn’t need a survey to figure that out, but merely to look at how we, our families and our kids already use computing devices.

In a report titled “The Future of the Cloud Computing,” cloud is used a metaphor for any service that’s Internet-based. Cloud computing, meanwhile is an overused catchphrase used to describe “the act of storing, accessing, and sharing data, applications, and computing power in cyberspace.” The report says that by 2020, the desktop will start to fade into irrelevance.

Some 71 percent of the 895 “technology experts and stakeholders” who were surveyed believe that by 2020 “most people will access software applications online” rather than “depending primarily on tools and information housed on their individual, personal computers.”

Nearly 27 percent disagreed, believing that “by 2020, most people will still do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Internet-based applications like Google Docs and applications run from smartphones will have some functionality, but the most innovative and important applications will run on (and spring from) a PC operating system. Aspiring application designers will write mostly for PCs.”

Like many of Pew’s previous surveys, I find the report’s insights timid, pedestrian and pretty pointless, and the questions they’ve asked people leading. I don’t want to pick on Pew — most surveys about future technology trends and adoption tend to focus on today’s grown-up users, failing to take into account the kids, tweens and teens who are growing up on the cloud with Internet-connected devices such as the iPod touch and Android-based phones. If the sales of 2 million iPads are any indication, the desire to leave the PC behind is much more acute today than ever before.

To be sure, there are many applications — mathematical, graphically intensive, data-heavy apps such as Excel — that are still going to require some kind of desktop presence, but most of the apps we commonly use are already browser-based. As Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows,” is quoted in the Pew Report as saying:

“We don’t have to wait until 2020 for this shift. It’s already happened. The browser (a cloud interface) is already by far the most possible PC application, and cloud services like Facebook are the most popular computing services, whether accessed via PCs, netbooks, or smartphones. For consumers, the cloud revolution has already happened.”

Or to put it more bluntly — Pew may be squinting to see the future, but it’s already here. To learn more about it, join us at Structure on June 23 & 24th in San Francisco.