The Next Digital Device

Writes the Economist:

By putting new technologies, such as digital photography and electronic messaging, into consumers’ hands in an easy-to-use form, the new handsets seem to be succeeding where the PC has failed. Mobile phones have a far broader appeal than PCs. The lone exception is North America, where PC ownership exceeds mobile-phone ownership. But even there phones are catching up.

In Europe, more people now send and receive short-text messages on their phones than use the Internet, according to figures from Gartner, another consultancy. This year, users of mobile phones around the world passed the 1 billion mark. The number of mobile phones is now greater than the number of fixed-line ones.

PC sales, meanwhile, have stagnated, and innovation has slowed: today’s PCs are really just like those of a year ago, or two years ago, only faster. Sales of handheld computers, or personal digital assistants (PDAs), at around 10m a year, are dwarfed by sales of mobile phones. It looks increasingly as though the personal computer was a misnomer. The truly personal digital device today is the phone.

A proxy of this PC-Cellphone battle is the software battle between Nokia and Microsoft.

An editorial in the same issue adds:

As the computer industry tries to cram PCs into pocket-sized devices, the mobile-phone industry has arrived at the same pointbut from the opposite direction. The latest phones announced by Nokia, the world’s largest handset maker, include one model with a folding keyboard aimed at business users, as well as a colourful phone that plays computer games. Digital cameras, already a popular feature of mobile phones in Japan, are starting to appear elsewhere. Colour screens are spreading fast. The latest phones have as much computing power as a desktop computer did ten years ago.

In short, the once-separate worlds of computing and mobile telephony are now colliding, and the giants of each industryMicrosoft and Nokia, respectivelyare squaring up for a fight for pre-eminence (see article). Both camps are betting that some kind of pocket communicator, or smartphone, will be the next big thing after the PC, which has dominated the technology industry ever since it overthrew the mainframe 20 years ago.

China’s Super Kids

Writes Nicholas Kristof (NYT):

I’ve met the future, and it is the [Chinese] kids. Americans who come to China tend to be most dazzled by glittering new skyscrapers like the 1,380-foot Jin Mao Tower, but the most awesome aspect of China’s modernization is the education that children are getting in the big cities. And the long-run competitive challenge we Americans face from China will have less to do with its skylines, army or industry than with its Super Kids, like Tony Xu.

Tony’s real name is Xu Jun, but all the children entering the New Century Kindergarten that he attends get English names as well. Six-year-old Tony’s first languages are Mandarin Chinese and Shanghainese, but even in English he rattled off answers to equations faster than I could.

China’s great strength is that in the cities, it increasingly is not a Communist country or a socialist country, but simply an education country.

One reason for Chinese educational success emerges from cross-cultural surveys. Americans say that good pupils do well because they’re smarter. Chinese say that good students do well because they work harder.