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(Photo: Devon Brooks)
(Photo: Devon Brooks)

Technology's Wild, Wild West

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Written by Devon Brooks

In mid-June, as part of its two-day conference, Metabridge hosted Tim Bajarin, the president of Creative Strategies, and a widely read columnist for PC Magazine. Creative Strategies works with 30 to 60 companies a year helping them identify technology trends that they can benefit from or that they must incorporate to survive and Bajarin talked about some of those trends.

The Kelowna event was one of a series put together by Metabridge to connect local companies with the thinkers and doers of Silicon Valley in California. The B.C. event included several occasions for networking at social events, talks by Bajarin and Ethan Anderson, cofounder of Redbeacon (a service request industry) and a chance to pitch business ideas to the VIPs brought up for the conference.

Bajarin started with the recent, frantic history of the computer industry, specifically on the transition of information from analog to digital. That started, he says, in 1981.

Bajarin projects that transition will take 50 years to complete, which puts us just over half way along the journey. He believes, “There is an amazing amount of opportunity still to come.”

The opportunity will be both in quantity and quality. While the silicon chip is reaching capacity, that will not even slow down the rate of change. He says, “The path of innovation in the next 20 years will be more staggering than in the last 30.”

On the quantity side of changes wrought from the computer, Bajarin says, “Only one billion people have touched a computer in the last 25 years. The second billion will happen in the next five years.”

With the advent of so many new electronic devices to access the Internet, like MP3 players, cell phones and new categories of computers, like Apple’s iPad, some people claim the PC is going to fade and die, but Bajarin disagrees. “The PC is not dead. There’s still a lot of life in it.”
Projected sales of computers next year will reach 35 million for netbooks (very small, lightweight notebooks), 141 million desktops and 214 million laptop computers. Even if those estimates of desktop and laptop sales growing to 350 million units in 2011 is correct the number pales in comparison to the 1.2 billion cell phones expected to sell, of which 65% will be smart phones.

Over the longer term cell phones are only the beginning. According to Bajarin, “Every device that we have is going to be connected to the Internet.”

Looking backward he says every major product category starts at what he calls the “wild, wild West” stage of development. This is when competing companies all offer their own proprietary product and it is left to the consumer to pick which will dominate. Eventually sales force a convergence and consolidation so that only one to three platforms are left, and even those agree on some standards.

The PC went through that stage in the ‘80s and ‘90s and cell phones are there right now. But not for long. He predicts, “In cell phones there are 12 different platforms that will consolidate down to perhaps three platforms in the next 18 months.”

Each product category also transforms itself as it develops, as the best revenue potential moves from manufacturing the product (as the PCs did in the 1980s and book readers are doing now) to one of software development, in which the money is made selling applications to owners. This is where mobile phones are today. In the final stage of development, which is where we find the PC in 2010, the largest revenue benefit comes from selling services to the end user because most of the abilities and consumer desires are already available in the market. Computer gamers are perfect examples – the big money now comes from selling online subscriptions to the computer gamers rather than the game itself.

For any one who loves technology and its transformational power, Bajarin concludes, “We are living in one of the most exciting times in our lives.”

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