Next-Generation CommPuting Devices

Business Week reports on learnings from Cebit America:

In a few years, the idea of the big desktop-computer flanked by a clunky keyboard, monitor, and printer may seem just as antiquated. That setup is being replaced by a new generation of wireless phones, handheld devices, and tiny digital sensors that will soon outnumber PCs by a margin to 10-to-1. “As these devices catch on,” says technology analyst Crawford Del Prete of researcher IDC, “they will redefine the very meaning of computing and change the way people work and live.”

The range of new, hybrid computing devices is staggering. The trend began a few years ago with the appearance of Research In Motion’s BlackBerry, which allows users to send and receive e-mail, surf the Net, and manage their contacts with a pocket-size communicator. It continued last year with the appearance of PalmOne’s Treo 600, which added a mobile phone and a keyboard to a Palm organizer.

The next step will be devices that combine these features with the power of a laptop. OQO, a San Francisco outfit created by veterans of Apple Computer and IBM, set out to build the world’s smallest laptop. Less than 5 inches wide and weighing only 14 ounces, the OQO is easy to drop into a briefcase or even a purse. But it has the power of a full laptop loaded with Windows XP, and it includes Wi-Fi for high-speed wireless Internet access. The device will be available in the second half of 2004.

Indeed, mobility is redefining the world of tech. As small Wi-Fi enabled devices like the OQO hit the market, they’re becoming an increasingly viable alternative to regular phones. Simply plug a headset into the OQO within range of a Wi-Fi connection, and you can make free phone calls with Internet technology.

Over the next 15 years, tiny wireless sensors will be embedded in almost every product, from light bulbs to tubes of toothpaste. These miniature transmitters are based on radio-frequency identification technology, which is familiar to many drivers who use windshield-mounted RFID tags so they can slip through highway tolls booths with a minimum of delay. A scanner at the booth reads the driver’s tag number and automatically bills a credit card.

Big changes in the software sector are necessary, too. As the range of devices and data becomes ever larger, companies are consolidating the number of systems they use to manage the traffic. Holland-based outfit Exact Software is helping customers eliminate layers of incompatible software by rolling out a single product to handle a whole range of business functions, from sales and marketing to administration and human resources. That means customers will require fewer vendors or technology platforms. By using a bundle of software from a single supplier, customer can reduce costs and make it easier for employees and customers to communicate.

As this new technology enters the market, people will have the ability to work from almost anywhere using tiny, powerful mobile devices. When that happens, who’ll need a big desktop PC?

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.