That's it! We're getting a sat-nav!

I've seen the future, and it's off-line

Posted on Wednesday, 18 February, 2015

Last month we bought a Tom Tom satellite navigation device.

I ditched my old Tom Tom years ago and vowed never to buy anything from them again, mostly because of a disagreement over a £100 charge for a digital map they refused to refund but could never distribute to me because of their broken software. We tried a Garmin but it was frustratingly unintuitive and was quickly dispatched to a land-fill site.

Since then I've been coping with Google's Navigation app on my Android phone. The app has got slower and slower at an exponential rate, I think halving its performance, while doubling its battery consumption, every 18 months, in a kind of perverse inverse of Moore's Law. Lately the app was consuming more power than it was taking in over the USB charger, not great if your phone is running low on battery anyway, which seems to be almost always on a relatively old smartphone.

But by far the worst part is the expectation Google (and everyone else has) that you're always on-line, always on, always part of the grid. And in the English countryside, where I live, that means a very poor, slow unresponsive, unreliable computing experience (reminiscent of waiting for web pages to load in the age of dialup).

So eventually a tipping point was reached: the frustration with Google became greater than the conviction never to further enrich the company behind TomTom.

TomTom GO 50

Actually, the device we got (TomTom GO 50) is far better than the previous thing, and the overall experience far exceeds anything on a phone. We're not looking back.

The experience got me thinking, trying to understand why I was so happy with the purchase. I think it showed me how far along the wrong path the tech industry has been travelling.

My prediction is that, over the next 25 years, society will change course from a frantic march towards a purely online model advocated by some back back to a hybrid offline/online model, one where much of your data is stored and managed locally and the network used more sparingly, where appropriate.

There are multiple reasons for this :-

  • Advances in networking will never exceed the continued advances in storage.
  • Existing network providers inability to innovate and radically improve coverage and speeds.
  • Awareness of surveillance levels will drive some motivated individuals to develop alternatives to the all-online model promoted by cloud vendors.
  • A growing appreciation of the downsides of continual interruption and the negative effects it has on creative work.

Of course, this debate about the pros and cons of 'local versus remote' computing is as old as computing itself. The point is to strike the right balance.