Tom O’Reilly: Forget the PC, think mobile instead

Over at O’Reilly Radar, Tim O’Reilly shared the story of a friend who realized the future is here. (Hint: It’s in your pocket.)

photo (c) jan chipchase ( Image by Jan Chipchase

The story goes something like this: Vic was out for dinner with family and friends. The adults were on one side of the table, the kids on the other. The adults were debating some issue, and Vic said, in response to a question from one of his friends, “I don’t know.” His four-year old daughter Samantha, whom everyone knows as “Tiger,” piped up from the other side of the table: “Daddy, where’s your phone?” “What do you mean, where’s my phone?” She explained that she’d overheard the question. Why wasn’t he just looking up the answer on his phone? Out of the mouths of babes. Vic said that he realized in that moment that the era of the PC was over, and that the future belonged to cloud applications accessed via phones. […] [Until know I thought] about the web as experienced on a PC, and then about mobile as an add on. The tipping point has come; that notion has to flip: if we’re trying to get ahead of the curve, we need to think first about the phone, and then think about the PC browser experience as the add-on.

That’s a good, and incredibly important point. From what I see happening all around me, mobile is discussed a lot, and of course there’s a lot of (mostly smaller) service catering to iPhones and the like. But primarily the web is perceived as something you access from your laptop, or even desktop. What’s wrong about that? Simply what I emitted in Tim’s quote above, which is:

Kamla Bhatt was busting my chops about the same subject when I did an interview with her last week for Mint, the Indian business site. “Tim, you don’t talk enough about mobile!” she said. “In India and around the world, there is a whole new generation that accesses the internet, and they have never seen a PC. To them, it’s all on their phone.”

Emerging markets and all those areas in the world where PCs aren’t ubiquitous. In large parts of the world, cellphones are the way to go, now and in the future. PCs and laptops may never make it there, at least they won’t play the same role as they do in the richer industrialized countries.

A great read about the role of cellphones in developing countries can be found in the NYTimes: Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty? If there’s one person who does the really cool research in this area, it’s Jan Chipchase of Nokia, who’s also quoted extensively in this article. Jan goes to all those countries, cities, neighborhoods in less industrialized countries and checks out what people do with their phones, how they interact with them, which role those phones play in their professional and personal lives. It’s incredibly fascinating; and it’s clear that we should look much more into mobile than just developing more web services for 17/15/13 inch screens and full QWERTY keyboards. Instead, small screens, different input devices, location-based and context-based features are things we should be really looking into. Interested? For a good starter reading I recommend Jan Chipchase’s blog. No matter if you read it on your laptop or your cellphone.

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