Arnold Kling makes sense of the emerging world of devices and gadgets that we are seeing emerge around us:
Back in the 20th century, the imperative of personal computing was integration. We needed a display, input devices, mouse, processor, modem, and storage media in a single machine. Above all, we needed software to assemble these parts into a functional whole. Peripherals were built under the assumption that they would be physically connected to the main hardware.
Today, we are seeing the outlines of a different design strategy. Wireless radio signals can provide the digital connection between devices. Instead of assuming that your device is designed to attach to a standard personal computer, you can be relatively agnostic about what other types of devices your gadget might encounter. Your cell phone can communicate with other cell phones, of course, but you might also want it to talk to vending machines, cash registers, or global positioning satellites.
The wireless revolution is creating a centrifugal force. Before the advent of protocols like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, information technology was dominated by centripetal forces, which drove everything closer to the central personal computing device. Now, we have centrifugal forces, which are pulling the personal computer apart.
With the centrifugal trend toward separate components, the software can be simpler, because the devices are more specialized, with much of the user interface embedded in the hardware. In fact, to the extent that communication among disparate devices requires clearly-articulated standards, it is the software that will be commoditized.
On the other hand, the types of devices will vary, and the hardware design becomes critical. How can the user interact with the device without a keyboard? How large a screen is necessary? What functionality must be compromised in order to lengthen battery life? The big winner in the personal computer era was called Microsoft. It could be that Microhard would be a better name for a company today.