Podcast Audio | Posted by Phil Leigh on September 4, 2012
While the recent abrupt slowdown of personal computer sales at Dell and Hewlett-Packard undoubtedly portends major changes in the future of computing, it’s unlikely that anyone has a fully developed picture of the much discussed “Post-PC Era”. At best we can identify a number of salient characteristics that shall likely prevail.
First, desktops and laptops shall likely remain the primary tools for creating files and doing work for years to come. Examples include word-processing documents, “slide-show” presentations, building and augmenting websites, spreadsheets, and high quality video and audio productions. In contrast, smartphones and tablet computers shall become our primary means of consuming media. For example, even in the living room, iPhones and iPads enable users to view most any Internet video through a flat panel TV so long as the television is attached to a $99 AppleTV appliance. As illustrated in the chart below, new buyers of tablet computers typically spend more time doing work on their desktops and laptops while spending less time consuming media.
Second, computing will no longer be a well-defined destination activity. We’ll cease requiring a desk or laptop workspace in order to interact with information. With tablets and smartphones, computing will be all around us. Eventually other items such as automobiles, appliances, and medical devices shall be absorbed into the computing environment. Lines of demarcation are already starting to fade as televisions are increasingly becoming optional displays for personal computers or similar devices.
The Internet Cloud shall provide the computing resources required to make ubiquitous computing a reality. Cloud services will augment the data processing capabilities of portable devices thereby enabling them to perform otherwise overly complex activities and remain synchronized to the user’s agenda. Portability shall also add context such as location and presence. For example, Starbucks is developing an electronic payments system that senses the identity of arriving customers owning smartphones and enables them to pay with the phone instead of a credit card or cash.
Blogger Simon Bramfitt insightfully perceives Amazon’s Kindle as a limited function device with features suggestive of a more universally applicable to a future “Post-PC Era”. Specifically, the Kindle is more than just a physical unit. It combines a hardware appliance with a series of applications for reading and annotating documents. A user with more than one Kindle (or Kindle App) discovers the content on one is available on all. Content, bookmarks, and annotations on each device are synchronized. Text is automatically reformatted to fit the applicable screen. All of this requires no effort from the user. It just works.
Third, a wireless Internet shall be an indispensible component of the Post-PC era. Virtually all future computing devices will be able to connect to the Internet wirelessly. Even aging form-factors such as desktop computers will offer wireless connectivity as an option. Home appliances ranging from thermostats to TVs will connect to the Internet wirelessly in the majority of instances. But among portable devices such as smartphones, tablet computers and e-book readers, wireless connectivity is a requirement.
Unfortunately, in the United States the major cellular carriers are starting to impose metered rates. The more consumers use the wireless Internet, the more they will pay. Yet, research from AT&T Labs convincingly demonstrates that consumers intensely dislike usage-based rates. In our analysis, they will hunger for ways to avoid it.
A recent metered-data-rate horror story was reported in The Wall Street Journal. A tech-savvy vacationer took his family to Europe and applied all reasonable precautions to avoid using cellular service. In a WiFi setting he downloaded a catalog from a store the family was visiting in Scandinavia. But he did not realize that the iCloud service would automatically “synch” the catalog to his son’s iPhone. Moreover, iCloud would automatically use the cellular network if the iPhone was not in a WiFi hotspot.
The most readily available option to cellular metered rates is private networks utilizing unlicensed spectrum centered on the WiFi convention. In the future Television Band White Space will be used to augment such networks. Such technologies are the common methods of providing Local Area Networks in our homes. Outside the home they are normally available in restaurants, coffee shops, common areas of multi-family dwelling units, hotels, and airports. Often such outside the home networks are available as a free amenity, but hotels and airports often charge for the service.
Consider how managers of office, apartment, and condominium buildings are using the iPad as a “Post-PC Era” productivity tool. The device enables them to make more engaging presentations, conduct business during tenant tours, and display videos and photos of related properties. There’s no clunky keyboard or mouse to carry around. And since it’s an Apple product, there’s little need to be concerned about catching a virus wherever it is taken. The interface is touch-finger on a simple pane of glass. The iPad reduces the barriers to making a sale by (1) capturing an applicant’s signature on the spot, (2) pulling in links to verify his employment, and (3) even processing credit cards with the aid of a commonly available attachment. Yet to insure that all such features work at the fastest possible speed without network congestion, it is best that the applicable buildings have their own wireless networks.
While it is difficult to comprehend to full “Post-PC” environment, some characteristics can be anticipated. Perhaps most significant of all is that wireless connectivity will be essential. The fact that cellular operators are increasingly adopting metered rates implies that consumers will demand private networks typically using unlicensed spectrum, such as WiFi, which will be augmented in the future with shared spectrum such as Television Band White Spaces.