In the last post, Part I, the idea of digital ecosystems was explored with a closing question about where we are headed with these three ever-growing empires.
I believe the answer lies in analyzing the issue of screensize.
In the past year and particularly during the last few months, there has been great attention spent on Netbooks. This new sub-category of computing devices fills the gap inbetween the cellular phone and the laptop. Being larger than a cellphone with a fully functional keyboard, it allows a user experience much nearer to the laptop. However being on average 50% – 75% smaller than a standard laptop means it offers even more mobility and is a better fit for those that demand constant computing capabilities that can keep up with their active lifestyles.
Indeed, some have begun to openly wonder whether the Netbook will eventually replace the Laptop. The reason for the rise of the netbook now can be attributed to two primary developments: 1) Better microprocessors made specifically for mobile computing and 2) The coming of age for Solid State Memory. With microprocessors such as Intel’s Atom, the priority is continued reduction in size, while maximizing energy efficiency while still offering a competent processing speed. The major reason for the viability of the Netbook is the rapid price reductions of Solid State Memory. It has been falling in dollars/GB for several years now, but in the past 2 years has only just begun to break the thresholds of being affordable enough to be used in mass commercial products. Apple’s MacBook Air was one of the first major mainstream computer products to set a vision for what SSDs can do, even if the price tag was (and still is) reserved for the rich and famous. Netbooks are only the next iteration of SSD usage in mass computing. While still more expensive than original Hard Disk Drives, SSD are far more durable to drops, extreme temperature, make no sound, and are more lightweight and compact. A perfect combination for mobile computing.
The netbooks also have a much lower price tag than laptops and desktops too. The reason is not because its significantly slower than the other two computing options, but because it has less memory capacity. There are two drives for having less memory: 1) To lower price of the product to an attractive level that will make it a competing alternative to the laptop and 2) Because people are increasingly needing less and less memory on their computing devices. Price is obvious, but people using less memory may be intriguing to some.
With Facebook, YouTube, Google Docs, iWork.com, Picasa, Flickr, LastFM and SalesForce.com to name a few, it is plain to see that storing things online is becoming the norm and not an anomaly. When a person finds that their life is increasingly online and all their content is stored online, the computing device’s priorities shift to processing speed and connectivity. In-device memory merely facilitates the uploading of information onto the net.
With this in mind, and the commercial success of the netbook this year, it isn’t surprising to see Apple planning a large, 7 – 9 inch screen iPod touch. And there you have it. The emergence of the mini tablet PC. Each new generation of computer strives to be lighter, faster, more connectivity, thinner, convenient, and offers a superior user interface more efficiently translate your requests.
Essentially, the computer will evolve into a simple, light-weight access panel to the internet with primarily upload capabilities.
We’re already starting to see it happen with iPhone/iPod Touch, the mini tablet PC, the regular tablet PC, the new iMacs that have done away with computer towers, and large LCD and Plasma flat-screen TVs.
As more and more functionality and our lives moves online, the need for varied formats of the computer will decrease. Eventually the only choice consumers will have to make is what size screen they’ll like.
It is a question of screensize.
Large screens for home, mid-sized screens for mobile work and when carrying a bag, small screens for ultra mobility when carrying a bag is not desired.
Going back to the three present digital ecosystems being offered by Microsoft, Google and Apple, which one will prevail if computers evolve the way its been described above? Microsoft’s present business model of selling installation-based software isn’t going to be compatible with an online, browser-based world that is more concerned with upload than download. Google’s model of offering completely free access to its online products and charging advertisers for revenue seems to fit better with a world with thinner, lightweight computers. We just witnessed an extraordinary event where two developers grafted Google’s Android platform onto one of the new Netbooks. This could be the first steps of many Google may take in securing its leadership in the next generation of computers. Apple’s closed-system software-hardware bundle still has a fair chance of succeeding if Apple can guarantee it continues to introduce the next must-have computing device that takes everyone one step closer to a thinner, more light-weight computing world. I hear iWork.com, Apple’s answer to Google Docs will be subscription-based. If Apple can keep its momentum it just might be able to lure enough people and lock them into Apple’s ecosystem to charge them all subscription fees.
It seems that if computers continue to get thinner and lighter, then for the longevity of this development (say the next 5-10 years), Google and Apple have very bright futures while Microsoft has a tough battle ahead.
But if we review the question of screensize again, an astute entrepreneur may take the idea of screensize one step further and ask: “why would we need to continue requiring consumers to carry a screen with them wherever they go? Why can’t we provide screens for them wherever they are. so they don’t have to carry screens anymore?”
Then the question no longer is about screensize, but about moving screens from 2D to 3D. Enter surface computing. All the surfaces, wherever you are, are screens for you to access your information, upload your information, and communicate. The tables, walls, clothes, all surfaces will become computing access points for the digital ecosystem.
If thinner, more lightweight 2D computers/screens is the 5-10 year mid-term horizon, then surface computing is the 15-20 year long-term horizon.
And guess who’s been leading the way for surface computing? Bill Gates and Microsoft.