Computers are getting smaller every year. Back in the day, computers consumed entire rooms. Today we have Glass. Glass is a complete computer that's small and light enough to rest comfortably on the human face.
But Glass isn't the only new computing form factor hitting the market this year. There is an incredible number of new form factors coming out, including:
We haven't ever witnessed such a blossoming of computing form factors in such a short period of time. That begs the question, why now? What made it possible for all of these new form factors to commercialize in such a narrow window of time?
The simple answer is that computers were never good enough to power these form factors until recently. Today, an entire computer, packed into an integrated system-on-a-chip (SoC), consumes just a few square centimeters (approximately the size of a fingernail). SoCs are cheap, affordable, capable, and available in relatively small volumes (< 50,000), with availability to scale up to extremely large volumes (> 100M). Computers are small enough to quite literally fit everywhere, so entrepreneurs are trying to fit them anywhere they can.
But hardware is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to compute, these new devices need an operating system and connectivity to web services. Luckily enough, Android is available as a free, open source, extremely robust, extensible OS that's evangelized by the almighty Google and has a thriving developer community. It has been and will be the foundation for a large percentage of the new computing form factors.
And lastly, these new devices depend on high speed, ubiquitous Internet connectivity. Most of them will feature hosted app-stores, where all applications are hosted and delivered through the Internet. The Internet is the greatest distribution mechanism of all time. It's hard to compete with distribution that's global, instant, and on a marginal basis, effectively free.
The foundational elements are in place. The stars have aligned. Computers will be everywhere, in everything, all the time, so that we can compute whenever and however we want. We are witnessing an explosion of innovation in computing form factors. Incumbents will dominate some form factors such as smartphones, but startups will pioneer and lead many new computing form factors, especially those that aren't expected to be mass-market devices. Incumbents will focus on the largest and most profitable businesses, leaving smaller markets up for grabs. For the first time in a long time, we're experiencing a renaissance in hardware. It's refreshing and exciting, and is creating enormous new opportunities for hardware, software, and services startups.