The computer as an appliance: Moving beyond the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Siri – Macworld

Over the past few decades, computing has trended towards the personal. We’ve gone from the age of desktops to the age of laptops to the age of the smartphone. And even though that newfound mobility has brought with it freedom and flexibility, it’s not without its costs.

For one thing, we are, more than ever, entranced with our own personal screens, in the same way that we don our headphones and tune out the world. Computing has become a siloed affair, with each of us involved in our own personalized experiences—even if they connect us with other people across the world, all on their own devices.

But part of me wonders if the pendulum is beginning to swing back to a model where the technology we use at home is linked to a particular location. That’s not to say such a device would supplant the smartphone or tablet, or even the laptop. But maybe the time is finally upon us when the computer becomes a home appliance.

Putting the “home” in “home computer”

What I mean by an appliance is a simpler device, not unlike your toaster or your microwave. It’s not just in your house, but a part of your home. Instead of being cordoned off in an office or a computer room, it sits alongside your other appliances, in the kitchen or the living room, and sits quietly until it’s called on.

Also like an appliance, it’s a simple and streamlined device that doesn’t require you to spend a lot of time hunched over a screen, make you enter your username and password every time you use it, or require cumbersome troubleshooting or maintenance. It doesn’t do everything a computer does, but simplifies certain tasks that you perform when you don’t want to go scrambling to find your phone or sit down in front of a computer. I’m imagining a device that might become a part of the background of everyday life, much like the radio once was—but smarter, of course.

If that sounds a lot like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple’s own rumored Siri Speaker, well, yeah, that’s kind of where I’m heading. I think there’s a space left between the mobility of the smartphone and tablet and the full experience of a laptop or desktop. The computer appliance doesn’t fully replace either of those things; it fills a different niche in our lives.

There’s an app-liance for that

I can think of a few reasons why the time is right for the computer to take up its place as an appliance. For one thing, the technology now exists to pack all the needed hardware into a small device that can fit on a tabletop. We’re also getting used to interacting with technology with our voice.

For another, our computing model has become increasingly distributed in the modern age. We have computers, smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes, and voice-based speaker assistants like the Echo and the Google Home. In some cases, these are devices that are more focused on a single task or a couple tasks—the Apple TV, for example, or the Apple Watch.

The computer as an appliance: Moving beyond the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Siri – Macworld