I think we are entering some very interesting times in terms of how computer technology integrates into our lives. We’re about this close to having almost everyone connected online and I think it is primarily due to the confluence of three factors: 1) wireless broadband is affordable, 2) computer literacy is pervasive, 3) connected devices are cheap and available.
While we’ve had broadband Internet to our homes for a while and even limited Internet access to our mobile phones (with WAP, WML), broadband to mobile devices is a new thing for Americans. The one tipping point I believe was the introduction of the iPhone 3G. Because of its popularity and its demands that the base standard of connectivity should be 3G, now almost all carriers are beefing up their 3G offerings. And while most people gripe about paying for wireless broadband access, more laptops are starting to come with those capabilities built in. I’m sure people will find a way to cough up an extra $30-$60 a month to enable the wireless broadband. So, OK, bandwidth requirement: check.
Who doesn’t know what Facebook or YouTube is these days? There are so many people using computers for online needs and communication it is impossible to escape. Almost everyone knows how to use a keyboard, mouse, and a web browser. People know that when you use a computer, you “go online”, you “browse” or “surf” to a web site (which has specially-formatted URL), and you can click and scroll to get more information. Even if you don’t know how to type, you can surely use a computer provided someone set it up for you. OK, so computer literacy: check.
The final piece of the puzzle is having a personal device that can get you online. Laptops used to be so expensive, and even an iPhone/Gphone is a still a luxury device. But not anymore. The netbooks are here and are proving the use case that people really don’t need to store a lot of data. In fact, as it turns out, people don’t create a lot of data beyond typing things and taking photos. And if you have a lot of photos, we all know you can buy a hard drive to store them. Thus, now we have these affordable devices with an interface that is just good enough to use the internet. Final OK, cheap capable devices: check.
People are using the Internet as their computer now. (This blog, my email, and my new startup all use some computer off in a data center, not a computer that I have in my house.) Considering the downward pressure of the economy forcing people to look for cheap computing alternatives and the necessity for everyone to find online access, I think 2009 will prove that there’s a mass shift from laptops to cheap PCs where people pay extra for wireless broadband. And a little further down the road this may well prove that people use a cheaper cell phone to talk, a netbook to compute+browse, and websites to store their data. The people who need a laptop or desktop will be those with business needs.