2010 Trends: Alternate Computing Emergence and Convergence
The year started with the Mother of All Disruptions as the world teetered toward economic and financial collapse. The technology industry withered in general due to lack of demand. Intel, for example, reported its first loss in 21 years in the second quarter. As we head in to 2010, things seem to be on the mend, albeit slowly.
I thought I’d jump on the new near “top trends” bandwagon and provide some observations of my own for information technology for development (ICT4D).
Netbook fever and 1:1 computing in education begin to fade into the background
Ever since Nicholas Negroponte launched the One Laptop per Child project and Intel followed with the Classmate PC, the buzz has been about netbooks for classrooms, or 1:1 computing (one computer for each student).
The reality is that the majority of netbooks sold are not sold to schools, but to middle class consumers who are looking for a smaller notebook form-factor. In my 2009 travels, ministries of education in Latin America seemed to be the most notebook centric. Peru had purchased 150,000 XO laptops. Chile wouldn’t even consider anything that wasn’t mobile. As governments’ emerge from budget lockdown, I predict that they will look for more affordable and realistic options, such as PC labs and desktop computing.
Alternative computing models “cross the chasm.”
A desktop PC or notebook computer has typically been the primary way people in the developing world get exposed to computers and the Internet. That is changing rapidly with the introduction of solutions that significantly lower acquisition and maintenance costs and provide increased energy efficiency over a standard PC or notebook. For example, the company I currently work for, NComputing, sells a product that allows up to 30 users to share one, inexpensive desktop PC by hooking up additional monitors, keyboards, and mice to small access devices and costs about 75% less than a PC and uses 90% less energy. In 2009, NComputing reached 15% of the US market desktop computers in K-12 education.
Microsoft has also embraced “shared computing” for education, announcing a new product called Windows Multipoint Server that will be available later this year. Many developing countries, such as India, Brazil, Pakistan and others, now allow these type of solutions to be bid in addition to standard PCs and notebooks. Just as shared access will prevail over 1:1 computing, virtual desktops will become an increasingly popular option given the tremendous cost savings over traditional desktops.
Mobile phones and Computers
The final trend to watch is whether one form factor – the mobile phone or the computer – will win out over the other in ICT4D. With smart phones providing most of the capabilities of a computer, some argue this will be the ICT device that prevails. But is it really a zero-sum game? My opinion is that the computer and the mobile phone will coexist for the foreseeable future.
Sometimes you just need a full-size keyboard and monitor for an application. And sometimes you just have to be truly mobile (and by mobile I mean being able to transact on the move vs. sitting somewhere with a laptop). At Intel we often talked about “three screens” … the small screen (handheld), the bigger screen (computer), and the biggest screen (TV).
But all of these trends should lead to increased development through access to innovative ICT solutions and services that could be created and driven by social enterprises. I’d love to see a special report from BusinessWeek and The Economist on the convergence of these trends and its impact, but if not, we can always blog about it.