I’ve been fascinated by creative tools of all kinds for my entire life and software is particularly exciting: Someone can make a tool that allows an entirely new means of creation. That tool can then be distributed to anyone else in the world, at scale, and virtually for free.
Software is somewhere in the summer between sixth and seventh grade, with braces and the start of some bad acne… It’s a real mess, but with so much potential.
In the past, a lot of great software ideas were held back due to the limitations of the available hardware — dial-up access, memory by the megabyte or kilobyte right than gigabyte, low screen resolution, restricted colour palette, etc. Some developers achieved amazing feats in spite of this, but those were the exception rather than the rule.
The old joke about software expanding to use all the extra hardware resources with each upgrade still has some truth to it, although these days that’s less of an issue unless you’re using an older device or limited connectivity.
The big problem right now, as Zach alludes to in his post, is that a lot of the ‘new’ ideas aren’t that new, and in many cases are solutions looking for problems to solve. Virtual reality is a prime example — even with all the advances, there’s no getting away from the fact that people need a good reason to strap on a headset and controllers. Augmented reality has fared better because you can use that today with something you already have in your hands, and not feel like an idiot. It’s a similar story for speech recognition.
Meanwhile, the visual experience has barely moved forward in a decade or more. Tablets and smartphones probably account for most of the progress, but only because they removed keyboards and pointing devices and forced the software to adapt. The web accounts for the rest, but in some respects that progress has been retrograde thanks to the proliferation of dark patterns and a lack of respect for resource constraints.
The next wave of Big Software will be tools that actually benefit people’s lives, not “platforms” that exploit their animal weaknesses. The end of the race to the bottom is nigh. There’s nothing holding us back. We have everything we need, and it’s all pretty good.