PCs: 2004 and Beyond

PCWorld gives a glimpse of the future:

Over the next two years, you’ll start to use “invisible” PCs small enough to fit inside a desk drawer, powered by chips that chew through massive files like cotton candy. You’ll enjoy new wireless technologies that let you log on at blistering speeds from virtually anywhere. Living rooms will turn into digital entertainment dens, where you’ll enjoy media streaming seamlessly from every source–broadcast TV, cable, satellite, and the Net. And you’ll encounter strict security measures that some claim will make PCs hacker- and virus-proof, though at the cost of personal control.

But that’s just the beginning. How about computer displays stitched onto your T-shirt, or immensely powerful processors with circuits smaller than a human chromosome? In five to ten years, these and many other far-out technologies may also come to pass.

Innovation and the iPod

NYTimes had a story recently on Apple’s iPod and its creation:

The idea of innovation, particularly technological innovation, has a kind of aura around it, too. Imagine the lone genius, sheltered from the storm of short-term commercial demands in a research lab somewhere, whose tinkering produces a sudden and momentous breakthrough. Or maybe we think innovation begins with an epiphany, a sudden vision of the future. Either way, we think of that one thing, the lightning bolt that jolted all the other pieces into place. The Walkman came about because a Sony executive wanted a high-quality but small stereo tape player to listen to on long flights. A small recorder was modified, with the recording pieces removed and stereo circuitry added. That was February 1979, and within six months the product was on the market.

The iPod’s history is comparatively free of lightning-bolt moments. Apple was not ahead of the curve in recognizing the power of music in digital form. It was practically the last computer maker to equip its machines with CD burners. It trailed others in creating jukebox software for storing and organizing music collections on computers. And various portable digital music players were already on the market before the iPod was even an idea. Back when Napster was inspiring a million self-styled visionaries to predict the end of music as we know it, Apple was focused on the relationship between computers and video. The company had, back in the 1990’s, invented a technology called FireWire, which is basically a tool for moving data between digital devices — in large quantities, very quickly. Apple licensed this technology to various Japanese consumer electronics companies (which used it in digital camcorders and players) and eventually started adding FireWire ports to iMacs and creating video editing software. This led to programs called iMovie, then iPhoto and then a conceptual view of the home computer as a ”digital hub” that would complement a range of devices. Finally, in January 2001, iTunes was added to the mix.

And although the next step sounds prosaic — we make software that lets you organize the music on your computer, so maybe we should make one of those things that lets you take it with you — it was also something new. There were companies that made jukebox software, and companies that made portable players, but nobody made both. What this meant is not that the iPod could do more, but that it would do less. This is what led to what Jonathan Ive, Apple’s vice president of industrial design, calls the iPod’s ”overt simplicity.” And this, perversely, is the most exciting thing about it.

Tapping Students to Create Local Content

Satya wrote recently about an interesting idea on how to use school and college studets to create local information resources:

Students will create databases of information relating to their locality and issues of immediate importance to the residents of the locality (neighbourhood, city, state or even country).

Students will learn how to gather information, analyse it, organise it and publish/disseminate it to those who can use the information to their advantage.

Possible focus areas to start with include:

  • local geography (creating a map of the school and its neighbourhood, a local GIS database with information on population, soil, climate, flora & fauna, pollution levels, civic facilities, utilities, infrastructure etc.)
  • local history (mapping history starting from the present day and going back in time)
  • local arts, crafts, literature, cultural traditions, practices etc.
  • local businesses (create an online directory of local businesses, maintain a local classifieds web site and publish a daily neighbourhood blog online or even a weekly/monthly newspaper including advertisements from local businesses/traders to meet costs
  • availability/price of basic essentials, rental values, land values in the neighbourhood and comparison of different products and services and merchants in the neighbourhood
  • generating local neighbourhood census data with the students collecting the data themselves

    The college students can focus on creating more value-added information including economic and financial information, scientific and technical information and tracking the activities of all local councillors and legislators etc.

    Each school/college does all of the above for its neighbourhood and the schools form a network so students can interact with their peers in other localities and share information and experiences through blogs, online groups and web sites. All the local databases (GIS data, classifieds etc.) can then be integrated together to create larger city-wide, state-wide and nation-wide databases. These databases can then be commercialised with the school/college serving as the information consultant to local businesses and organisations by helping them address their specific information requirements using the databases and undertake customised market research surveys or polls, or develop customised databases as well. All of this can generate sizeable revenues for the school/college as well.

  • This dovetails nicely with my IndiaMirror idea.

    Yahoo’s Plan to Fight Spam

    Wired News reports:

    Under Yahoo’s new architecture, a system sending an e-mail message would embed a secure, private key in a message header. The receiving system would check the Internet’s Domain Name System for the public key registered to the sending domain.

    If the public key is able to decrypt the private key embedded in the message, then the e-mail is considered authentic and can be delivered. If not, then the message is assumed not to be an authentic one from the sender and is blocked.

    “One of the core problems with spam is we don’t know, Yahoo doesn’t know, the user doesn’t know … if it really came from the party who it says it came from,” Brad Garlinghouse, vice president for communication products at Yahoo, told Reuters. “What we’re proposing here is to re-engineer the way the Internet works with regard to the authentication of e-mail.”

    Can RSS, Sun, Apple challenge MS Office?

    Steve Gillmor thinks so:

    [RSS] could be as disruptive to personal computing as the digital video recorder has been to television…Generated by Weblog authoring tools such as the pioneering Radio UserLand, RSS feeds were consumed by a growing circle of cross-linking bloggers and a spillover audience from the trade press. But vendors and developers soon saw the opportunity to deliver content directly to the technical audience, and users saw a way to route around the growing inefficiency of e-mail and Web browsing.

    Suddenly, the Windows advantage as the essential platform for applications was neutralized. In a pre-RSS world on a ThinkPad, I spent about 40 percent of my time in the browser, an equal amount in my e-mail client, and the rest in Word, Excel or PowerPoint. Now, on the Mac PowerBook, I spend 40 percent of my time in NetNewsWire (the leading Mac RSS reader), 20 percent in Entourage X (the Mac Office mail client), an equal amount in the Safari browser, and the rest in Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

    With [Apple’s] Safari, browsing is now an operating system service. So are spelling checking, Zip compression and, most important, instant messaging services. iChat AV brings usable videoconferencing to the table, integrating IM presence information with any tool that wants to take advantage of its service.

    It’s the combination of these system services that produces the RSS information router. IM presence can be used to signal users that important RSS items are available for immediate downloading, eliminating the latency of 30-minute RSS feed polling while shifting strategic information transfer out of e-mail and into collaborative groups.

    Advances in RSS search, offline storage, authenticated feeds, embedded browser rendering and rich authoring tools are in progress, and all kinds of data are yielding to the RSS momentum.

    Sure, but as one e-mailer asked me, “Why would developers switch to a platform of only 7 million users?” Perhaps they won’t. But they will take a careful look at a Linux look-alike such as Sun’s Java Desktop System, particularly with its forthcoming Looking Glass user interface and a rumored RSS tool based on Mozilla’s cross-platform browser.

    Sun has no problem disrupting Outlook’s market share with a free RSS router, something Microsoft is loath to do. RSS puts users in charge and at a price they can afford: free.

    TECH TALK: My Mental Model: Creating Disruptive Innovations

    I like to focus on the next markets. Imagine how the world of tomorrow will be, and try to create solutions for the next set of users. Better still, pick up those who are non-consumers. This ensures that one does not have to worry about competition for at least a while, till one gets the various elements right. Our ally in this quest is Clay Christensen and his theories on disruptive innovations. A must-read is his recent book, co-authored with Michael Raynor: The Innovators Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth.

    In Christensens world, there are two types of innovations: sustaining innovations and disruptive innovations. The sustaining innovations are those which focus on established markets and bring better products and services to the user base. So, Microsofts bringing Windows XP and Office 2003 to market are examples of sustaining innovation. By contrast, disruptive innovations focus on two possibilities: low-end disruptions address overserved customers with a lower-cost model, and new-market disruptions compete against non-consumption. Linux is an example of a disruptive innovation which is giving overserved customers (in comparison with Microsoft Windows) a cost-affective alternative.

    As we think, it is useful to apply the litmus tests for disruptive innovations that Christensen and Raynor outline in their book:

    Executives must answer three sets of questions to determine whether an idea has disruptive potential. The first set explores whether the idea can become a new-market disruption. For this to happen, at least one and generally both of two questions must be answered affirmatively:

  • Is there a large population of people who historically have not had the money, equipment, or skill to do this thing for themselves, and as a result have gone without it altogether or have needed to pay someone with more expertise to do it for them?
  • To use the product or service, do customers need to go to an inconvenient, centralized location?

    The second set of questions explores the potential for a low-end disruption. This is possible if these two questions can be answered affirmatively:

  • Are there customers at the low-end of the market who would be happy to purchase a product with less (but good enough) performance if they could get it at a lower price?
  • Can we create a business model that enables to earn attractive profits at the discount prices required to win the business of the overserved customers at the low end?

    Once an innovation passes the new-market or low-end disruption test, there is still a third critical question to answer affirmatively:

  • Is the innovation disruptive to all of the significant incumbent firms in the industry? If it appears to be sustaining to one or more significant players in the industry, then the odds will be stacked in that firms favor, and the entrant is unlikely to win.
  • This is a good set of questions for every entrepreneur to answer.

    Tomorrow: Creating Disruptive Innovations (continued)

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