Watching a program on television this week, there was a segment that tried to answer the question if whether broadband internet was a necessity. You can probably make the argument that it is. More often than not, companies are focusing efforts on making announcements, service information, and primary means of contact as items that you will first find on the Internet. If you even think about five or six years ago, television advertisements would be more likely to have a telephone number or PO Box than a website address. It is pretty safe to say that the Internet has become the main means of communication for a good deal of the world.
Also in that segment, they talked about Philadelphia and how Philadelphia is aiming to become the first large city in the US (San Francisco is going to most likely come in right behind them) with wireless Internet across the whole city at a cheaper than DSL or Cable rate. Personally, I say if private companies can’t make Internet work cheaply (even dial up that works consistently is hard to come by because of the wired infrastructure that carries it), then let city governments (not state or federal) do it. It would make companies step up and then we can really address the issue at hand for mobile computer and mobile phone companies, who will be first to make the device and application that will enable the common person to realize all (if not most of) the potential of the Internet.
What is that killer application or killer device? A website this week wrote that email and the RIM Blackberry represent the optimum device. For corporate types, I agree. I just don’t think that’s the whole picture. PalmOne would tell you that the success of the Zire lineup represents the kind of device that people most want. For those willing to learn the software (and remember to backup), that could work too. But Zire PDAs are disconnected PDAs. It requires a mild learning curve to get a Zire PDA connected online, so that knocks it out of the running as well. I will not even consider Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Nokia and other mobile phone makers. They do make a device that everyone needs, a mobile phone, but mobile phones are really a bear when it comes to getting online information quickly. Between program interfaces, the high cost of data plans and the concessions of screen size versus interface options (that is, the larger the screen, the more likely you are to see some kind of keyboard making text input easier for most people); mobile phones have their own hurdles to overcome. And with all of these devices, you still have the aspect of batteries, screen sizes/types, and user preferences. Unless you are a marketing machine, like Apple is with their iPod lineup, you can’t convince everyone that one thing works well for all. So, why this everlasting search by companies, and users alike, for this killer application or killer device?
Who really needs a killer device? In my opinion, no one does. What is needed is a killer mentality on the part of manufacturers to create a device that will convince customers that they can’t do without that device and its functions. I need a device that doesn’t do everything well, but one that can convince me that I can’t do without it.
Apple is successful with their iPod line because they have crafted a market perception that people who commute to work want low cost music and a portable device that will easily take that music while showering before work. It is safe to say (in the DC Metro, NYC, and Philadelphia areas at least) that this works. So much so that marketing to those people has made the ultimate trickle down to college students and nearly anyone who ever carried a walkman for portable music. They made a product that is defined by its function. And they marketed the function as indispensable to everyone. PalmOne used to do that, and somewhere along the line got away from that approach. It used to be that you could tell someone, “get a Palm Pilot and get rid of all of that paper.” Even for a long period of time “Palm Pilot” was synonymous with PDA, like Kleenex with tissue paper. The next thing you knew, your boss and everyone else would be getting a Palm Pilot. But somewhere along the line, the PDA industry stopped pressing the button of “you need this device because of how you function.” And when that stopped happening, the market for PDAs went into decline.
So my thought is quite simple: we don’t need a killer application or a killer device. If anything, I want a company to take something I do, that I might even take for granted, and create a device that makes it easier not to take it for granted. There were MP3 players before the iPod, some were even better. But none said that carrying music could be so easy, purchasing music to go on your iPod could be so easy, shuffling music tracks could be so easy and you could be hip the entire time. They picked a function and marketed the function instead of the device. I believe if PDA Manufacturers would do that, and then create compelling devices and intuitive interface; the PDA market will once again expand. But if not, it could be that we would see the death of the PDA as we know it and we will all be wanting iPods that are also calendars, email, and memo devices.