By Tom Hayes
The biggest take-away from last week’s Consumer Electronics Show is that every device in our lives is rapidly becoming a computer connected to the Internet. That new reality means the Internet will soon transition from the conspicuous to the unconscious-from something you go “onto” to something you never go off of-and in fact hardly even think about.
Much the way electricity did a hundred years ago, the Internet is segueing from near-magic to life staple. And much the way electrified homes and cities revolutionized our culture and economy at the turn of the 20th century, the Internet as core utility will do the same for this century.
Light on actual new gadgets, the CES was a watershed for showcasing network ubiquity. Machine-to-machine communications, what some used to call the Internet2, will mean that modern life depends on connectedness in a whole new way. In fact, we may soon stop referring to the developed and undeveloped worlds, and instead talk about the hot and the dark worlds-the online and the offline hemispheres. And as I write about in my book, Jump Point, by 2011 more people will be online than off as the Internet crosses the 3.5 Billion user mark that year. So it makes sense that the CES this year looked more like the consumer shows of the 1950s in demonstrating the new wonders and conveniences of the modern home. Almost every booth featured models of the digital lifestyle. For example:
- By 2011, 90 percent of all Sony products will connect to the Internet, Howard Stringer, the chief executive of Sony, predicted.
- New televisions from LG, Samsung and others will now let viewers seamlessly watch movies from Netflix and other Internet sites.
- The Palm Pre phone promises to make it easy to call your friends by looking up their phone numbers on Facebook for you.
- A new version of the Ford F150 pickup truck will let contractors check service manuals by browsing the Web from an in-dash computer.
The new drive is to embed computer chips with Internet connections– all of which keep getting cheaper and smaller–into more and more everyday products. Sony introduced an Internet-connected alarm clock that will wake you up with your favorite music videos and traffic forecasts for your commute. Asustek, the giant Taiwanese electronics company, showed a touch-screen computer that hangs on a wall and a TV remote with built-in PC and keyboard that lets users surf the Net on their TVs. According to Jonney Shih, the chairman of Asustek, soon everything in your house, even your bathroom mirror, will be a computer display.
What’s the big idea from all this connectivity? For one thing, if you still see the Internet as a plus-market or mere conveyance, you’d better rethink the future of your business. If you think the Internet is just for downloading digital products, you had better watch out for the coming revolution in distribution and supply chains. If you think the Internet is just for the young, hip and adventurous, try going dark and see what happens to your business. One thing is certain; the world on the other side of this economic downturn will be very different than it is today. And, that helps explain some of the pain and fear. What we are experiencing now is as wrenching a transition as the change-over from rural to urban or agrarian to industrial. A century ago a brave world hailed the electrification of Main Street and ushered in the modern consumer economy. Last week we celebrated the connectivity of Main Street and welcomed the start of the real Internet era.