In the last few days, we’ve had a few announcements that will probably look a lot more important ten years from now than they do today.
Phoenix Technologies announced Hyperspace, which is basically a quick-and-dirty embedded Linux system for those simple times and tasks where/when you don’t want to wait for Windows.
This joins a similiar startup effort called Splashtop.
You’d have to give Phoenix the edge here because:
Phoenix is also a big historical figure in PC history. Their efforts made it possible for the “clone PC” market to emerge and tear the PC market away from IBM in the mid- to late-eighties.
Finally, a far less venerable but much more powerful Google has announced that it’s going to get into and a bunch of hardware partners plan to get into the smartphone software business with Android.
Do all these items have something in common?
We think they do. We think they all mean it’s the beginning of the end of the PC Era, and the startup of what we’ll call the pc Era. Personal Computer out, personal communicator in.
Let’s look at the world today. The desktop is a dinosaur. Over half the PC sales in the US are now notebooks, and the rest of the world is trending that way. This is largely because people seek greater convenience through mobility, even when it doesn’t actually make much practical or financial sense for them.
Hyperspace and Splashtop are signs that many people find Windows too inconvenient to use for simple tasks. They want to send off a note or watch a movie NOW, not two minutes from now.
Well, if waiting two minutes to perform a simple task is found too inconvenient, imagine how those people find lugging around a seven or eight pound box around to perform the same simple tasks. Give them a good alternative, and they’re likely to take it.
For sure, no one is going to write the Great American Spreadsheet pecking away on a miniscule keyboard, and we won’t see Photoshop or Halo for smartphones. There’s just some things you can’t handle conveniently with a device you can put in your pocket, so desktops and notebooks won’t go extinct.
But if all you want to do is look at a webpage or email or IM, or listen to some music or a movie, and yes, make a few calls, what would you rather have, seven pounds and a case, or something in your pocket?
If this sounds an awful lot like today’s smartphone, well, it is. Let me add one new feature to it: voice recognition. It’s not perfect today, it won’t be perfect tomorrow, but given how people spell with full-sized keyboards today, it will be good enough for a pocket PC a few years from now.
More importantly, next decade’s personal communicator will differ from today’s smartphone not so much in features as in ease of use. Wireless communications will be as easy and reliable and cheap as cellphones are today. You’ll have applications that work well and quickly, and won’t have (at least for a while) ten thousand bells and whistles you don’t need. It will do five or six things well out of the box, and while it will be able to handle addons, that’s that.
Will we see this anytime soon? No.
The hardware isn’t there yet, but that’s the least of the problems; give that about three years.
No, the revolution will be delayed because it will take time to develop broad standards, then have them fight it out. GoogOS is obviously meant to be such a standard, but despite all the talk about notebooks, that’s where Hyperspace and anything else like it will end up, too. Creating a convenience for notebooks is just practice for the real battle.
MS will obviously jump in, too. There’s no reason why Windows can’t be an instant-on system, too, though one can have serious doubts as to how well MS might do. What’s called for is practically anti-Windows, and Windows CE hasn’t been exactly embraced by the smartphone makers.
Wireless networks will face the same kind of problems. WiFi is self-limiting. Current mobile broadband isn’t very broad, and too expensive for casual use. WiMax and other contenders are unproven and raw.
So while it’s inevitable that we’re going to go this way, it’s just as inevitable it’s going to take a very long time to get there. Maybe the whole kit-and-caboodle will start working well in 2015, maybe even later than that.
It will be a long war on a number of fronts, but the troops are starting to gather for the first battles.