Besides the Mobile Web, the other area of interest for me is in affordable (and manageable) computing. In June, I wrote a series on Computing for the Next Billion. Here is how I put the opportunity on context: Part of the motivation of the computer companies in targeting the next billion users is that the first billion or so users already have computers and therefore little reason to upgrade or buy new computers considering that the Internet, rather than the local hard disk, is increasingly the source of content and services. Faced with a slowing growth in their current markets, the computer companies are looking at blue oceans and these can be found amongst the users in the developing countries. Take India, for example. The installed base of computers is less than 20 million, growing at about 5 million a year. Compare that with the usage of mobiles 100 million, growing at just under 5 million a month. Nearly three-quarters of the Internet users use cybercafes rather than a computer at home for their access. Across small- and medium-sized enterprises, homes and educational institutions, India offers an opportunity for 100 million computers over the next 4-5 years…Selling computers in emerging markets offers an excellent opportunity to do good and do well.
I discussed the various solutions being proposed, and offered my views on what will work:
Right from using regular desktops in cybercafes to owning (or renting) cheaper desktops and network computers to using mobile phones to connect over wireless networks, the next billion users will have something they have never had before in computing: choice. Thats perhaps the best thing to have happened from the attention that is being lavished on the bottom of the pyramid. Having said that, not all solutions are equal. My bet is on two solutions to emerge winners over the coming years: mobiles and network computers. The common thread to both is the dependency on a network. The business model will be along the lines of an upfront payment of about $100 (Rs 5,000) for the device and about $10 (Rs 500) a month for connectivity, content, services and support.
To understand why I think these network devices will emerge as winners, it is important to understand that the problem with todays computing solutions is not just about affordability. It is also about manageability. Complexity in computing has increased, not decreased, over the years. Users have to become their own system administrators to ensure their computers stay clean and secure. The next users are not going to be as savvy as the first set of users in managing their computers.
Into this brave new world, the disruption to be leveraged is the world of communications. Both wired and wireless broadband networks are being deployed in emerging markets. Given the importance of Internet access and the coming era of software-as-a-service, the computers role is now more of a window to the world of information residing in the network.
Tomorrows world will, therefore, revolve around computing and information which happens in the network (the cloud), with the users having access to two devices: a small screen mobile phone which they carry with them all the time, and a bigger screen desktop-based terminal which connects over a broadband network to which they have intermittent access. Both devices have their strengths. The big screen is better for applications which are input-output-intensive and require multimedia. The mobile is with us all the time and can be used during lifes empty moments.
Next Week: Best of Tech Talk 2006 (continued)