Wireless is nothing new; weive been using TV remotes, garage door openers, and laptops for years now. But as always, we are demanding more. To check your e-mail and your online stock portfolio from your traditional computer is no longer good enough, even if you have a PowerBook. We want smaller devices that do more - and do it without wires.
Handheld computing devices have been around for quite a while now, from basic $20 devices that store a few addresses and appointments to full-blown PDAs running a graphical operating system. However, it has only been in the last couple years that these PDAs have hit the mainstream, thanks mainly to the success of the now-ubiquitous Palm Pilot.
The Palm Pilot comes with most of the things you would expect a PDA to offer: contact manager, scheduling software, etc. But the beauty of the Pilot is that there are thousands of third-party applications available that allow you to do most of the things you can do with your traditional computer - including accessing the Internet.
People want the ability to be in touch with their customers, colleagues, and friends while they are on the go. The combination of a cellular phone and a Palm Pilot allows them this convenience. Naturally, as these devices offer more functionality and continue to drop in price, their popularity will grow exponentially. This could very well mean that they will cut into the sales of traditional laptops - as long as customers donit mind giving up some functionality for improved portability.
And where is Apple in all of this?
Ironically, Apple once offered a device similar to the Palm Pilot in form: the Newton. Originally introduced in 1993, the Newton was eventually discontinued, mainly because it was priced much too high and thus found relatively few takers. Currently, Apple is not completely ignoring the wireless market. Every single new Mac comes with an AirPort slot which allows wireless networking, provided there is an AirPort Base Station nearby that is connected to a network.
But thatis not good enough, because while convenient, AirPort equipped Macs arenit truly portable or wireless, even if it is a PowerBook weire talking about. We still have to be in close proximity to an AirPort station to do our networking. Users want to be connected to the rest of the world twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, whether they are at home, in their car, or at the cottage - and every place in between. They want continuous access to their e-mail, stock quotes, and favorite Web sites.
Like it or not, Apple will eventually have to cater to this market. Merely offering software synchronization with the Palm Pilot is not good enough. Somehow, Apple has to get into this market - and they better get into it soon. Naturally, the best thing to do would be to buy out Palm Computing. If they did so, the Palm OS could be developed alongside the Mac OS resulting in the use of consistent interface features and close compatibility between the two platforms. Unfortunately, that idea isnit entirely realistic. Apple made an offer for the company but was told the division was not for sale.
The alternative: re-release the Newton, but this time at a lower cost and with added functionality. Obviously, some sort of cellular modem would have to be available. Full web browsing capabilities would be great, too.
To be sure, this machine would not replace your "traditional" computer. To do desktop publishing, software development, and video editing on this new Newton would be asking a bit too much. However, this system would have to have enough capabilities to justify its purchase, and that means e-mail, web browsing, word processing, personal finance management, etc.
The world is going wireless. Apple, unless you donit mind being left behind, you had better get into the game. It would be a shame to see such an innovative company wither and die.