Q: What’s all this talk about the “post-PC world,” and what does it mean for Texas, the PC capital of the world?
For the uninitiated, the term “post-PC” refers to an era, starting approximately in the year 2004, when more people will tap into the Internet through Web-enabled cell phones and other mobile devices than through personal computers. This change is already happening with remarkable speed. As early as 2002, according to the market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), more Internet-connected appliances, wireless phones, screen phones, TV set top boxes, handheld computers, network computers, Web pads, and video-game consoles will be sold than personal computers. In other words, the PC no longer has a virtual monopoly on connecting people to the Internet. And, indeed, Texas has become an important staging ground for the new generation of wireless technology. “What’s hot now, if you look at the VC [venture capital] herd, is wireless Internet,” said Gene Lowenthal, a partner with Sanchez Capital Partners, a venture capital firm in Austin. “There’s a lot of innovative technology coming out of early-stage wireless Internet companies in Texas.”At first glance, this might seem frightening to the PC-centric world of Texas, which is home to the two biggest personal computer companies in the world, Compaq and Dell. But on closer inspection, while the rise of smart phones and Internet appliances may cut into the PC industry’s growth, the damage is not likely to be significant. In fact, the trend may actually be good news for the PC companies. It takes lots of powerful, expensive computers to serve up data and manage the traffic to and from those mobile devices and Internet appliances. “It’s not a zero-sum game,” adds Lowenthal. “I don’t think the appliance industry’s gain is Dell and Compaq’s loss.”
That is partly because there are some things the big box can do better than the little boxes. “People are going to use a home PC with a big screen and a high-speed Internet connection to look at Web graphics,” says Ray Jodoin, a principal analyst for global wireless services for Cahners In-Stat Group of Scottsdale, Arizona. “But they’ll use a mobile device to garner access to instant information, like driving directions, short text messages, and bank balances.”
Scandinavia, with its obsession with multi-use cell phones, may offer a peek at the future here. Although more than 60 percent of the adults in Sweden carry mobile phones and use them almost as much for sending text as for sending voice messages, that does not mean they are abandoning PCs. In fact, the percentage of people who use PCs is higher in Sweden than in the United States, according to IDC. The same is true in Finland, where people can use their cell phones to pay for parking, play games, buy sodas from vending machines, and send millions of short text messages to each other each month. For all their prowess in mobile technologies, however, the most damage the Finns can do to Texas is at the dinner table. At Cantina West, a Tex-Mex restaurant popular with the wireless start-up crowd in Helsinki, the fajita ingredients include herring.