In high school I thought that the future of computing would be networked machines constantly and transparently interchanging not only data but also computation. The world’s idle PC would help your computer when it ran out of processing power, working together as one big Distributed Operating System. You could start writing an email and then leave your computer and access it from any other device. I was right on that last part, everything else was slow, complicated, and unnecessary. The real future is a lot simpler: Webapps and Sharing Data via simple protocols.
Certain of my favorite iPad and iPhone apps sync like this too. When I read a bunch of RSS items using NetNewsWire on my iPad, they’re marked as read on my Mac. Sitting at my Mac in my office, I can send a long article to Instapaper. I go downstairs, pick up my iPad, sit on the couch, launch the Instapaper iPad app, and a few seconds later, there’s the article I just added to my Instapaper queue. This is the sort of data flow that makes me feel like I’m living in the future — using multiple hardware devices to view, edit, and modify the same data. I don’t worry about where separate copies of my data exist. Conceptually it’s just there in the apps, and the apps do all the hard work of pushing and pulling changes made on other clients.
We still have a long way to go to really make this perfect (sharing files is still hard), but computing is starting to get to the point where the device fades away and finally lets you focus on what you want to do.