Governments increasingly want to control how ICT touches consumers’ lives, but the 2.0 consumer doesn’t seem to like the idea of a censored experience and in fact, empowered by the technology, also has raised expectations from the government. Call that the making of Citizen 2.0 and a new [governance] order. But more about that later…

Within the ICT domain, older market dynamics are showing signs of a crumble. A question that’s increasingly popping around is if Wintel (MS Windows-Intel) is fighting a losing battle against the forces such as ARM, Android and Apple? More and more market watchers feel the odds are increasingly against Wintel in a fast changing [computing] order.

While the ARM-powered smart phones had long been posing a threat, it repeatedly seemed to be a distant one, because no matter how smart the phones got, they still remained communication devices and could not be seen as replacing the PCs when it came to addressing extensive computing needs of users.

But with the advent and sudden march of tablets, which showed the potential of being a communication-cum-computing device, the Wintel world has been taken by surprise. Also, iPad’s record success forced all major PC and smart phone vendors to consider having the tablet as part of their computing product portfolios. The one problem was that nobody other than Apple really had an OS ready to go well with the tablet device. That gave Apple a distinct edge over others, something that continues to be there, as Google is yet to bring out the Android Honeycomb OS that has been designed for tablet devices.

Nevertheless, the tablet was seen by the industry as being characteristically closer to the smart phone (and not to the PC). And Android has already had a phenomenal run in the smart phone segment, which in turn gave vendors the required confidence to announce their respective tablets based on the Android platform. Most of these devices are to be powered by processors with ARM-based architectures.

Very soon the market will be flooded with tablet devices, in varying form factors, rekindling expectations that the tablets could finally be that one-stop convergence device that has never arrived so far. Moreover, supported by the ARM-Android engine, the threat for Wintel-driven PC bastion has grown real teeth and can no longer be dispelled as a distant bark. Yet, the tablet seems to be lacking some critical paws. Most significantly, and it has rightly been argued so, the lack of a physical keyboard and mouse and the smaller screen size are inhibitors when it comes to using the tablets for compute-intensive applications for longer hours.

When the initial tide settles down, it will be clearer that the one-stop convergence device still remains as elusive as ever before. The tablet is probably as close as it can get to being an ultimate convergence device and yet it’s not there exactly.

A one-stop convergence device is a Utopian concept that cannot exist in an earthly form. The real thing is consumer experience and that needs to become a collective focus area for the ICT industry.

Two things that can greatly enhance the overall consumer experience are modularity and interoperability. Modularity is about giving the consumer the seamless option of having or not connecting to a nearby keyboard, a large screen, a dock or even a specific OS environment at a given point in time. Interoperability is about ensuring that all the modules are able to work with each other, irrespective of the vendor or the service provider. It will be very timely and relevant to start building industry-wide standards and putting those into practice.

(As published in Deccan Chronicle, February 03, 2011; header changed.)

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