The Post-PC World, or Maybe Not
January 23, 2001
The reality is, the hype about the post-PC world is just another side effect of the recently discredited dot-com revolution.
A lot of these new devices depend on the wireless Internet. Sure there are some cases where wireless technology is useful: phone calls, GPS location, various emergency situations. But does the world need a general-purpose wireless Internet?
Users should worry about the feasibility of a new technology when everyone gives exactly the same example. Remember "agents" back in 1996? The only example anyone could give was using them to book airline tickets. With the wireless Internet, it seems the only example anyone can give these days is using it to trade stocks.
So why would you need to trade stocks from an airport lounge? Because you got a hot tip from your seatmate on the plane? That might have been useful in 1999, but now dot-com stocks are in the tank, day-trading is out of style and the focus is on well-researched investments.
That mindset isn’t compatible with spur-of-the-moment wireless stock trading.
Of course if you talk to any stock analyst, venture capitalist, or journalist, they think the wireless Internet sounds cool. But they spend too much time in airports to be unbiased. Unfortunately, they are the ones to whom everyone turns for predictions of the future, so the drum keeps beating for the wireless Internet.
The conventional wisdom may be starting to come around. Everyone complains that WAP is lame and the 3G wireless Internet will cost too much. A recent spectrum auction in Switzerland received no bids.
What about the new home Internet appliances? They are another effect of the dot-com frenzy. The only reason there is so much being written about appliances is because there are suddenly so many of them on the market. Somebody must be buying them, right? Could be that the free availability of venture capital in the late 1990s short-circuited the normal process by which new ideas gradually appear on the market.
Consider a hardware-minded entrepreneur in 1999. People are throwing money at him (or her), so he or she starts a company. Is the company going to make PCs and compete with Gateway and Dell? Of course not. The Internet was going to change everything, and everything will be done from within a browser, so why not make an Internet appliance?
The trouble is, everyone else had the same idea. Now the market is flooded with appliances, but that doesn’t guarantee that anyone is going to buy them (as the recent shift by Netpliance away from selling end-user products demonstrates).
I’m not saying appliances are useless. For some people, the ease of use is more important than the lack of functionality. But let’s face it, an appliance is useful only if surfing the Internet and sending e-mail is all you are going to do.
What was the most talked about application last year? Napster. What was the most talked about hardware? Probably a USB device, like a scanner or digital camera. Try using those with an Internet appliance (or if your appliance actually has a USB port, try going into a store and finding a USB device that has a driver for your appliance’s operating system included).
People say that nobody needs a more powerful personal computer and people will stop upgrading. This ignores the major CPU-chewing advances that are going to come down the pike soon, in particular voice recognition, but also applications like on-the-fly MPEG compression and, of course, ever-more-powerful games.
The PC isn’t dead. Long live the PC!
Adam Barr worked at Microsoft for over ten years before leaving in April of 2000. His book about his time there, "Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters," (www.proudlyserving.com) has just been published by iUniverse. He lives in Redmond, Washington.