Monday, January 02, 2006

The phase out of retail PC

This idea started growing in my head after two events, one my parents started using their new PC and, second, CISCO bought scientific atlanta. Well seeing my parents struggle with the basic internet and window skills really made me understand that the PCs are an overkill for 60-70% of the PC users that looking to do basic things like check email, browse and listen to music and play media clips once in a while and a much smaller and simpler product should do the job.
Based on the way things are moving it seems like that is already at works. The industry thinks that the triple play will not stop at the last mile but will actually continue to the antenna terminal on the TV. And I think that this is where the retail computing markets will be making their move in near future. So instead of the triple play being addressed by separate components like digital convertor, cable modem, VOIP box, wireless router and a PC, there would be one single product to get the job done. In this way, these components will probably go through the same convergence process as has been the case in other areas of technologies (like wireless).
I understand that this idea has not been new and some (including me) have thought it to be the basis of Internet Operating System. But the important point is how will the various players fair in this. Now we can easily identify some of the good contenders like PVR/DVR/Set-top box, Retail Networking(modem, routers, voip hardware), PC retailers and some not so obvious [Crigley on Google-mart]. Each of the groups have their own strength and weaknesses and I guess only time will tell how they will fair. But as of now, I think PVR/DVR and Network will be fighting it out and PC business would become more focused on the enterprise, specialized retail and accessory business. The cisco's move to buy Scientific Atlanta in this regard and IBM move to get out of PC business, may be part of that or may be reading too much into them.
The cisco's move after integrating the aquired technology with their networking products makes them a great end-to-end networking technology provider for the phone and cable companies which at the moment no other company seems to be doing in the routing business (which I guess would be juniper, Nortel, etc). In addition to that their upward movement in the TCP/IP stack gives them the ability to push the intelligence in to network and help build the efficiency and controls that the phone and cable company may want.
In addition to the whole idea of software as service is very condusive for these new products. These products can subsidize their set-top boxes with the money from the payment for additional software services. This model gives the companies like TiVO a big advantage since they have existing product, presence and technology which can be a good starting point. But they still need to build support for additional products like VoIP and browsing capabilities to become a good alternatives. I guess we will have to wait and see who is able develop and execute a good business plan to achieve the end goal. The convergence by its very nature means that it will become very crowded very quickly and then the market will play its part in finding the companies that will survive in long run.
Before I conclude, I will try to put together a list of feature of various components and features of the package.
  • Set-top box
    • Low cost box similar to networking and PVR products
    • Large set of interfaces like bluetooth, RFID reader(??), USB (drives for storing personal information), Firewire, Wireless and other properitory interfaces to connect other products to the triple play medium (cable wire, phone wire, optic fiber).
    • Scripting and development Engine - AJAX like application to increase responsiveness and allow developers to develop easy applications.
    • Better (and I really mean better) input devices for User interactions.
  • Software as service
    • Low cost rental model
    • Searching/Information/Advertizement-on-demand service
    • Multi-media management software
    • Storage service
    • Email service
    • On-demand softwares ranging from basic office applications to photo-shop, etc available on per-use basis.
  • Better Mobile Platform - The convergence of Wireless mediums/protocols would ensure that new mobile computing products will be available which will use the same software-as-service model to deliver the software services with voice/handwriting recognition and/or better user input tools.

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