Popular hardware for free

I presented recently low-cost laptops produced in India, in China and in the US (MIT’s small Negroponte's computer), on sale for 200$ or less. Every month, we see more of the same. Their multiplication puts a new trend in evidence. Small handy laptops will soon be available for as low as 80$, shipping included! You may already buy a brand new Lexmark printer for only 60$ (but a black & white ink cartridge cost 25$ and a color one 42$). Companies don't make their profit any more with popular hardware, but with the contents and services they sell to us as captive clients. We observe the same trend with cell telephones. The main companies give them for free to their clients ready to sign a three years subscription. It allows me to give away my older one every three years to friends in the South. It is reasonable to foresee that we will get any popular hardware for free in the very next future in exchange of profitable subscriptions and services. According to the massive quantities of personal equipments of the digital age, the production costs in countries such as China, India, etc. are getting insignificant in comparison with the monthly invoicing of subscriptions and special services. This new business plan is allowed by the massive social use of such basic electronic devices considered as indispensable. We think we cannot afford anymore not to have the newest one in hands.

The permanent internet connection allows also offering computers without hard disk, and even with only basic software, using a simple flash memory to process any algorithm, and loading temporarily powerful programs from the servers. Microsoft is dreaming from such a new way of doing his money since years. The videogame industry nourishes the same vision. And open source programs like Linux' ones, which you get for free allow to drop even more the public prices.

These low-end portables will be more and more produced in China and India, reaching the same extension and acceleration as the market of the cell telephone. The quantity of the production will allow the prices of production to drop dramatically, as it happened with radios. We started with internet as a mass media only ten years ago. Think just of 50 years ahead. If the planet has not been destroyed meanwhile, it will become more and more a digital planet, what l called a hyper planet.

Paradoxically, their performances will get more and more astonishing. This revolution will radically transform not only the business plans of the big corporations, but also the social uses on a worldwide scale (only for now on limited to 18% of the population due to the digital divide, which will last for much more time indeed!). We don’t speak here of the professional uses, which may keep very expensive, but of the popular social uses, such as making and exchanging emails, photos, videos, navigating on the web and loading music, games or short animations.

Content, Content, Content!

The market may be massive, depending on the quality, the richness and the innovation of the contents. It may look as a paradox, but the economy of the digital age seems to move quickly from the hard and software to the contents. What about the networks, the so called tubes? Any one who bought a GPS device knows that he does not pay for the use of the satellite connection. Why? Because they are free public infrastructures! So, finally, we must say: Content, content, content, as people of real estate say: Location, location, location!

Spam Publicity

Contents and services, we should say. But nevertheless it sounds as an incredible new opportunity for creators, artists, musicians. And the next challenge concerns therefore our habit of getting the contents for free in the cyberworld, or pirating them. Many experts say that we will be obliged to change our behaviours. If not, the sanction will be to get tolerant to a huge wave of publicity, harassing us on all our screens. So to say: spam publicity! Such a tsunami will again enrich the publicity industry more than the corporations dedicated to digital hard and software. What will happen? At least it means huge changes in our social uses and the profit making of the economy, within a few years.

Hervé Fischer

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