Bill Gates recently revealed that he uses technology to learn. In an interview with Axios, Gates stated that he watches lectures by experts. Although he notes that it is not considered a cutting-edge use of technology, it is possible to learn about any subject online. Even without the Internet, computers can be great learning tools.
Over the years, I have taught myself to edit pictures in Photoshop, to program and script, to work with desktop publishing software, to record music, to create and query databases, and the list goes on. Sure, I am a geek but if there had not been a PC at home, I would have been less likely to develop any of the technical and creative skills I have today.
Smartphones are now the primary computing device for most of us but limited screen size restricts what we can do with them. Most of us are rarely moving beyond taking quick snapshots, writing short messages, and applying Instagram filters. While Bill Gates is making good use of his time, the rest of us are preoccupied with Facebook likes and videos of cute cats. I am always surprised at how many smartphone owners do not know how to get from A to B using maps.
We have become consumers of information, instead of creators and innovators. These ultra-portable, dumbed-down devices are partly responsible for the limited way in which we engage with computers. But is there a shift about to happen that could change the trend?
It will take new device form factors to move us to a future where small devices are better able to adapt to a wider variety of tasks. These new devices will provide the ultra-portability we have become accustomed to but with larger displays. They will come with traditional and natural input methods that we see on today’s Surface hardware.
Microsoft is aiming to make Windows 10 more attractive to the education sector by introducing Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop. Windows 10 S is optimized for easy management, security, and performance, which will allow it to run on cheap hardware that schools can afford. This should help to keep the total cost of ownership low.
While Microsoft has lost some ground to Chromebooks in the education sector, the real crux of the matter is not the software. It is the hardware. Today’s kids do not always have access to a PC at home to learn something in depth. Even if there is a PC at home, devices they can physically handle are more attractive than a PC sitting in the corner of a room. However capable the software becomes, without the right hardware in place to make it attractive to use, it will fail.
As the smartphone and tablet market levels out and we start to find these devices somewhat uninspiring, there is an opportunity to develop a new device type that offers the best of PCs and smartphones. While we do not know all the details, or if it will happen, Microsoft is likely to reboot its phone business to develop new types of portable devices.
Getting kids interested in using Windows for creating and learning from an early age is important but Windows alone cannot change the current status quo. It will require a combination of hardware and software innovation. It is important that Microsoft steps up to the challenge of making new hardware to help us get the most out of Windows.