15 May 2011

The Third Device

In just a short while Apple has re-defined the essence of the SmartPhone device with the iPhone. Now just 4 years old, the iPhone has changed the way we interact with our mobile world. For this (and despite my rantings against Apple) they deserve our admiration. But perhaps the most interesting phenomenon is the change in the way we use technology in general. When Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft they had grand visions about a Computer on every desk and one in every home. I don’t think they quite envisage that the consumers would develop a need for so many. Nor for how many of these we consume on an annual basis.

In 2004 in an interview with Fast Company Howard Schulz opened with a description of the experience at Starbucks where he is back at being CEO. “If you think about what occurs within a Starbucks store, I think we've known for a long time now that Starbucks is more than just a wonderful cup of coffee. It's the experience. And the experience is defined by what we have characterized for a long time as Starbucks really becoming this "Third Place" between home and work -- an extension of people's front porch, or people's home office. As a result of that, we realized early on that we had an opportunity to leverage the equity of the experience and the trust that our consumers have in the brand and in our people, to other products and services.”

Last week, along with Don Birch I moderated the Mobile Track at Distribution Summit run by Eye For Travel. About half way through the second session – it dawned on me that there is a new access method. We are now starting to use essentially a leisure device in the home. Its not a formal – but an informal product that is just an appliance. I call this the Third Device.

Several people have tried to make this happen. The Netbooks were the first attempt at this in recent times but many of us remember the TRS80 and the Sinclair products. Apple once again has redefined the market and given us the defining first implementation of the Third Device. Let us all be clear it is not a full PC and it doesnt need to be.

At the conference there were about 40 or 50 people who were busy typing away their notes on the (mostly) iPads. Don even won an iPad 1 from the organizers. I watched these brave early adopters struggle with the idiosyncrasies of the tablet, its lack of flash and several other things that are quirky and even annoying. I have spent quite some time with an iPad (actually other people’s devices since I don’t have one – yet!). These hardy folks will suffer the brickbats of being pioneers. Still it looks a little hard.

I accept that the Third Device is really with us. Yes it’s a new way – and yes it will re-define how we consume media. We are already re-defining this interaction. For me the defining moment was boarding an aircraft last year behind someone reading a Swedish newspaper on his iPad. In exactly the same manner as someone used to read a paper newspaper. But don’t take my word for it – there are so many different examples about the decline of the newsprint business. The Third Device is going to broaden beyond the pure tablet. The recently released so called ChromeBooks (android/chromeOS based light devices) are another example. Netbooks based on MS OS is not likely to make a huge comeback which is a big blow for MS. We are likely to see other web browsing or web hosted services only based on WebOS or other web front end thin based clients.

But we are going to suffer until our wireless based infrastructure is better. I roam a great deal. I can assure you that we are far from, reliable, inexpensive or free based open web access. Therefore we are not likely to have full ability to leverage the devices.

Which comes first the device or the infrastructure? The Third Device like Starbucks is with us.

May we better be able to be smart about how we devise our services to these devices? Actually I am not very optimistic. I feel judging by some of the really bad apps out there – I don’t see that we are going to get a higher grade service any time soon. Let’s at this earlier stage – at least in Travel work harder at a higher grade of product. If not we are going to condemn our users to a poor experience and us to expensive support hardships.