The Coming Information Age

That headline might seem a little late among the folks reading this. But we’re all geeks, and if not geeks, then at least regular computer users. Regular computer users, however, are a minority. Worldwide, only around 500 million people have internet access, and fewer than 100 million people in the US have internet access at home. With populations of over 6 billion and 300 million respectively, there’s clearly a lot of growth potential.

Truth is, computers are the poor cousins to phones and television in terms of market penetration. In the US, Nielsen estimates there are over 275 million people with TVs in their homes today, and the CTIA says there are over 180 million mobile phone users.

The market opportunity is clear, but I think our notions of what a “computer” is have to change. Yes, computers have been through a lot of changes in 20 some odd years, but they’re still very much the same. Some might say that cars are basically the same as they were 100 years ago because they all mostly run around of four wheels and be happy with it. But transportation has seen tremendous change. Computers as we know them don’t own the internet any more than cars own the road or railroad or bike trails or skies.

Email was the killer app that made people interconnect their networks, the web was the killer app that got 90+ million users online already. And those users are the critical mass that pushes the development of real web applications — applications that are starting to beat desktop apps at their own game and doing things that desktop apps can’t.

With this flowering age of web applications, the age of internet connected information devices is coming. But we need something different from the computers we’ve become accustomed to. We need a device that is designed to serve the 90 million Americans who have cell phones, but don’t appear to have their own computers or home internet access. We need a device that replaces TVs as the leading entertainment and news medium. Because the information age will have arrived when there’s a dozen kiosks in every mall hawking internet tablets and we see them lined up at Best Buy with differentiated models for the kitchen, living room, the kids rooms, and for camping.

Background: this post is grew out of some discussion at TeleRead, NoSheep, and here at MaisonBisson.