14 Dec 2009 8:00 am   //   Filed under: Technology

It’s all going to be handheld

Since around 1999, I’ve had my computer connected to my stereo to play music. If I’m having company over and I want to program an evening’s worth of music, I create a playlist. The software and my music collection have both improved in the last decade, but the technology has remained essentially the same.

Until right now. Saturday night I had a holiday party and some friends figured out how to use their iPhones to connect wirelessly to my computer and hijack my playlist. Using DJ mode for iTunes (a feature I didn’t even know existed) they were able to make requests and queue up songs. It just worked.

Using your iPhone as a remote control for a computer might seem like a parlor trick (as if I have a parlor!), but I think it foretells bigger things. For most of your ordinary computing tasks (e-mail, reading the news, playing music), your iPhone is just as powerful—and easier—than your typical desktop or laptop computer. Theoretically, a device like an iPhone could be connected to a larger display and a keyboard and occupy the place on your desk where your computer sits now. When that starts happening, look out. Everything will be smooth scrolling, auto saving, and seamless connections to the network. Hard drives and file trees will go the way of command prompts and IRQ conflicts.

The future of computing is light, fast and collaborative, with users pulling data from the cloud rather than saving it on energy-intensive hard drives whirring away on their desks. It won’t matter where the songs are physically stored, the music will just seem to flow through your iWhatever to the speakers. Which is a little bit scary. I’m not a fan of ceding control of my stuff, and handheld computing usually means trusting companies to store our data. (Will Google, Amazon and Comcast be around forever?) But there’s probably no stopping it. It just makes too much sense.

Apple will keep improving the iPhone, Google is working on its own smart phone, and some viable e-reader/tablet thing is bound to arrive eventually. The handheld device is going to become the machine that connects us to everything. Now, if we could only come up with a name for it that didn’t sound as clinical as “handheld device” or “smart phone.” How about “computer”?