by July 7, 2000 0 comments

For years on end, the PC has been at the center of most
technological innovations. New devices and technologies were making that machine
which sits on your desktop, better, faster or more versatile. And what didn’t
affect the PC was usually relegated to the back pages. But the winds of change
seem to be blowing, and blowing hard.

If you look at the technological innovations that are making
it to the front pages today–WAP, Bluetooth, GPRS (General Packet Radio
Switch), VoIP (Voice over IP)–they have almost nothing to do with the PC.
Instead, the current darling of the technology world is the cellphone. And if
you notice, the cellphone has gained popular acceptance faster than the PC ever
did. Just a couple of years back, you got to see cellphones only in James Bond
movies, but suddenly everyone, from corporate chieftains to chaiwalas and school
students to housewives are sporting one. And services, particularly e-mail and
the Web, which once were the exclusive domain of the PC, are swiftly moving over
to the cellphone.

Why?

The cellphone is in many ways what the PC is, and goes beyond
to be many things that the PC could never be. The most obvious is that the
cellphone has processing power. Add to this, the screen that can display
information and the keypad that can be used to enter information, and you have a
device very similar to your PC. Going beyond, the cellphone already handles
voice commands much better than the PC has been able to do. Now add to this the
fact that the cellphone is way cheaper than the PC, its batteries can hold
enough power for the long haul, and you can carry it around in your pocket
whereever you go. Do you see the beginnings of a computing device more
compelling than the PC?

But the cellphone is not fully there yet.

For one, the display is still small and largely monochrome
text. That could change soon, with the PDA merging with the cellphone. Or better
still, a virtual display could be added to the hands-free kit–along with the
earphone and microphone, there would also be an eyepiece that would project the
screen directly on to your retina.

The next issue is the lack of bandwidth. Data communication
on your cellphone is still caught in the primitive 9.6 kbps era. So, sending
content, particularly multimedia content to and from a cellphone is a major
headache today. But that too is on the verge of changing. Better compression
techniques coupled with higher bandwidths could soon be sending multimedia
content to the large-screen projected on to your eye from the hands-free kit.
Why, the cellphone could replace not just your PC, but also your TV!

Is it the end of the PC?

The PC, or rather the workstation, still has its unique
position in the scheme of things. For example, you wouldn’t be writing code or
editing video on a cellphone. For that you would use the PC. But the number of
people who would use those programs or watch those videos would be many, many
times more than those creating them. And all of them would use cellphones!
Cellphones that would be more of a PC than the PC could ever become. Cellphones,
that at the same time, would be as unlike a PC as can ever be.

So, if you want to see the PC of the future evolve, watch
what’s happening to the cellphone.

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