Laptops, Home Servers and Smartphones

Kevin Laws thinks that “home servers and smartphones will eventually replace notebook computers for most users.”

First, people had computers at work. Next, they got them at home. Eventually, the work computer became a notebook, or one was added. This allowed mobility, and a scan of any airport will tell you how successful the notebook has been.

The next step is to eliminate the notebook and go back to a home pc with access via your smartphone. Several trends are behind this transition: more home applications require the power and constant availability of a home computer, while mobile technology and wireless data networks are evolving to meet the needs of notebook users.

Welcome to the age of personal servers.

Smartphones and home servers will meet the same necessity notebooks did, but in a new way: the home server is the center of everything, and the smartphone is your conduit to it. It will be surrounded by an array of accessories that can extend its capabilities when needed.

While notebooks will never truly disappear, the rapid growth will slow as people move to the personal server paradigm. You will soon use your mobile device to edit documents, do presentations, and check email as easily as you do from home.

This needs some thinking. I have been wondering if smartphones can become thin clients running VNC connected to servers at home and work. The last sentence of the article has a glimpse of things to come: “A great free application called PalmVNC which allows you to control your home computer desktop directly from your Treo 600.”

Jeremy Zawodny’s 2004 Predictions

Here. Jeremy thinks Search will focus more on personalisation and relevance, and get more vertical with the positioning “as the place to go to search for products and services, not just information.” He expects the social networking space to get more crowded, and a growing focus on reputation systems – “networks of people and their associated relationships and reputations will provide the backbone for some of the next-generation solutions.”

On RSS and Open Syndication, Jeremy writes: “RSS will go well beyond our little realm of weblogs. In 2004, RSS is going to go mainstream–and it’s going to happen in a big way.”

I tend to agree with what Jeremy is saying. Will be doing my own look-ahead at the end of the year.

Influence and Blogs

Jonathon Delacour connects Cialdini’s excellent book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” and weblogs:

Cialdini identifies six principles of persuasion. One only needs to have had a weblog for about five minutes to see the relevance to blogging of Cialdinis ideas about how we are persuaded and how we reach decisionsparticularly concerning whom one links to or adds to ones blogroll. If youre honest, youll recognize that at least some of Cialdinis principles have determined your linking/blogrolling preferences:

Reciprocity: When we receive an unsolicited gift, we feel an obligation to give something in return. ((If I put you on my blogroll, youll feel obliged to put me on yours.)

Commitment and Consistency: Once we make a commitment, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with our earlier decision, even if that decision turns out to be mistaken. (Now that youre on my blogroll Im unlikely to remove you.)

Social Proof: In a given situation, our view of whether a particular behavior is correct or not is directly proportional to the number of other people we see performing that behaviour. (If all those other people have X on their blogrolls, then he definitely should be on my blogroll.)

Liking: We prefer to say yes to people we know and likeespecially people who are physically attractive, who are similar to us, who praise us (subtly), whom we encounter regularly, and who are associated with individuals or events we admire. (The people I link to and have on my blogroll are similar to me, have praised me, are associated with events or projects Id like to be a part of at the very least, since Im never going to reach the A-list, I can bask in the A-listers reflected glory.)

Authority: Since we have been socialized to obey legitimate authorities, we tend to also obey individuals whom we perceive to possess high levels of knowledge, wisdom, and power. (Anyone on the Technorati Top 100 must automatically be knowledgeable, wise, and powerful.)

Scarcity: We assign greater value to opportunities when they become less available and frequently assume that scarcity is an indicator of quality. (Since the A-list has so few members relative to the total blogging population, what A-listers write must necessarily be of high quality. Similarly, a link from an A-lister is enormously valuableregardless of the quality of the item at the end of that link.)

User Interface Hierarchies

Russell Beattie writes:

I’m looking at user interfaces more recently. Online, on my desktop and on my gadgets and I’m taken aback by their complexity. But I’ve had an epiphany about their underlying structure that I wanted to try to express here.

Is there a reason for the icons and the buttons and the menus and the tabs and the list boxes and all the other GUI crap that we have to deal with both on a computer and increasingly on our mobile devices as well? I honestly don’t know. I personally think less is more when it comes to user interface design.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think in hierarchies and outlines. Even if I don’t always use my outliner for everything, I still organize my documents like that, and the text within those documents are usually indented as well.

What’s my point? That we need to do like Apple did with the iPod and review how our UIs work. We need less widgets, not more. We need more than simplicity, we need consistency. And since *all* data is a hierarchy, using that as a base for all UI elements would be a good thing. Teach a newbie: “This is how a hierarchy works. Now, anytime you need to find or edit information – whether it’s the MP3 you want to play or the settings on your phone, now you’ll know how.”

It doesn’t make sense any more. Now that we’re all comfortable with the idea of computers and the mouse, we don’t need “buttons” and “gauges” and “files” and “tabs” and all that crap that are analogies to real things. They’re not real things – it’s just data.

Gaming Uberdevice has a special report on the gaming industry’s quest to make the console, rather than the TV or PC, as the heart of the converged digital home. This “all-in-one” device would marry diverse functions from information access to communications to entertainment.

After years of big talk and false starts, the game industry is emerging as one of the leading contenders to create such a digital uberdevice. While consumers have yet to embrace the convergence idea fully, console makers recognize the trend’s persistence and want to make sure they don’t cede their spot in the living room to digital video recorders or other potential combo devices, none of which can boast a customer base near the tens of millions of home worldwide that are equipped with game consoles.

Rather than emulating PC-like informational tools, games companies are broadening the functionality of their devices by adding entertainment features such as music, video and broadcast technologies.

The three contenders: Sony Playstation, Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo Gamecube.

The Dean Connection

John Robb points to a NYTimes article on Howard Dean’s supports which makes the point that “the (mostly) young people behind Howard Dean’s campaign the brokenhearted, the techno-utopians, the formerly apolitical come together because they like the candidate. But they also come together because they like one another.”

Adds Robb: “In a round about way, it makes a good point about social software. The software works in the Dean campaign because it allows people of like mind to communicate, meet, and become friends. Generic or ‘global’ systems will never work. Social software needs an ‘interest space’ to be useful.”

Dan Gillmor, on Al Gore’s endoresement of Dean: “Blending online and offline, Dean is bringing people into politics, many for the first time and others who’d given up, in a way that could truly be the beginning of something new in American self-governance.”

It will probably require at least another election (5+ years) in India to see similar things happen. That is when the mix of technology and a new generation of candidates will help take governance to a new high.

TECH TALK: My Mental Model: for the Bottom of the Pyramid

The inspiration for the next phrase comes from CK Prahalad, who has been championing the opportunity of the underserved markets at the bottom of the population pyramid the poor in countries like India and China who earn USD 1-2 a day. This is the essence of what Prahalad says, in a paper with Stuart Hart:

Consider the 4 billion people at the bottom of the pyramid. Their annual per capita income based on purchasing power parity in U.S. dollars is less than $1,500, the minimum considered necessary to sustain a decent life. For well over a billion people roughly one-sixth of humanity per capita income is less than $1 per day.

This extreme inequity of wealth distribution reinforces the view that the poor cannot participate in the global market economy, even though they constitute the majority of the population. In fact, given its vast size, they represent a multitrillion-dollar market.

The perception that the bottom of the pyramid is not a viable market also fails to take into account the growing importance of the informal economy among the poorest of the poor, which by some estimates accounts for 40 to 60 percent of all economic activity in developing countries.

To appreciate the market potential of [those at the bottom of the pyramid], MNCs must come to terms with a set of core assumptions and practices that influence their view of developing countries. We have identified the following as widely shared orthodoxies that must be reexamined:

Assumption #1: The poor are not our target consumers because with our current cost structures, we cannot profitably compete for that market.
Assumption #2: The poor cannot afford and have no use for the products and services sold in developed markets.
Assumption #3: Only developed markets appreciate and will pay for new technology. The poor can use the previous generation of technology.
Assumption #4: The bottom of the pyramid is not important to the long-term viability of our business. We can leave Tier 4 to governments and nonprofits.
Assumption #5: Managers are not excited by business challenges that have a humanitarian dimension.
Assumption #6: Intellectual excitement is in developed markets. It is hard to find talented managers who want to work at the bottom of the pyramid.

I have two twists on Prahalads pronouncements: focus first on the top of the bottom of the pyramid, and also think of the enterprise pyramid.

The bottom of the pyramid, by definition, will always be the majority of the market. The numbers are vast. For example, in India, if we look at the rural markets, there are 700 million Indians living there. In China, there are a billion people in the rural areas. But is not possible to create solutions or focus on each one of them. The first goal should be to tap those at the upper edge: the top of the bottom of the pyramid. By creating solutions for this segment, we make it possible for those best equipped to understand and leverage the innovations to first do so. Over time, the more entrepreneurial among them will automatically create opportunities for the others lower down in the pyramid. Even the top 10% of the rural markets in India and China account for 170 million people.

The second variation on the bottom of the pyramid principle applies to the enterprise segment. There are nearly 50 million small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the world. By and large, technology has only had a limited impact on this segment because they are small, scattered, less IT-mature, hard to reach, and even harder to support and please. Appropriate solutions are what they need.

Thus, if we put the first two phrases together, what I am driven by is creating disruptive innovations for the (top of the) bottom of the pyramid. It is a market full of nonconsumers, invisible to the big players with their high cost structures (think: no competition!), but one rich with promise and opportunity, and waiting to be delighted with products and services which are good enough.

Tomorrow: requires Ecosystems

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