Dovetailing my blog post from yesterday about why an Intel acquisition of Nvidia makes sense (answer: appliance innovators need a flexible platform that's not a PC motherboard that gets them 95 percent of the way "there"), this post gives an example of the sort of appliance I was thinking about. Yes, there are already some such appliances on the market already that are emblematic of what's coming (and what will end up demoting PCs to second class citizens in the big scheme of things) like Tivo boxes, cable modem/wifi/routers, and gaming systems from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. But they barely scratch the surface of what's to come. Although the example I'll point you to is highly consumer-oriented in nature, this isn't a post to get you interested in that consumer technology (although I personally like it). This is a post to get you thinking in-the-box about what's possible.
Allow me to turn your attention to Exhibit A. It's a video of my colleague here at CNET Rafe Needleman getting a demonstration of HP's Printing Mailbox at a recent event called Demo. You never get to catch the name of the guy who is demonstrating the product (as well as the Presto service that connects to it), but I took the liberty of transcribing what he said:
Essentially, what we have is something called the presto service and it enables people who are not on the Internet today to receive emails and photos without a computer and without an Internet Connection. There are two pieces to it. One piece is called the HP Printing Mailbox which is the device that prints out the emails and photographs and content and then there's the service that's associated with that where you would go set up the account and administer the account and take care of things related to getting emails and photos to the user of the device.
In a typical scenario, it would be someone like you or I buying it as a gift for someone in our family, perhaps our mothers...Let me take me as an example... I might buy this for my Mom who might not be a computer user and she would receive the HP Printing Mailbox and when she does, she would just plug it into the power outlet and into her existing phone line and that's all she needs to do. And then I would go to our Web site -- Presto.com -- and setup her account.
[According to estimatates] there are 50 million adults over 50 that do not use a PC or Internet connection and there an additional number under that age group. But our target focus is in the over 50 market right now and that's a surprising statistic to us. So one third of American adults are not using a computer. What we've also found is that there are lot of people who have computers but we call them "technology shy."
All sorts of ideas started whizzing through my head after I saw the Printing Mailbox in action. It's a perfect example of something we rely on PCs to do today, where 20 years from now, our kids will be exclaiming "You did what!?" It's understandable why the targets for this are the 50 over 50 consumers. But in truth, the target for this and other appliances like it should be everyone, businesses included. Change its industrial design a little bit and it's a modern day fax machine. One difference? On the other end is not another fax machine, but the open lens of a cameraphone (imagination runs wild: replace the cameraphone with a video camera and the HP Printing Mailbox with something like a Tivo box that includes a some idiot-proof non-linear editing buttons).
Wrap an LCD into the Printing Mailbox (a good reason for AMD/ATI or Intel/Nvidia to be under the hood) and why can't you imagine Grandma walking up to this appliance, browsing the newest pictures from the entire family, picking some to print (perhaps even editing some and making a collage out of others first). And doing all this with no keyboard. While we're at it, put an Ethernet port on it. Maybe the device has a few buttons and a ball. Give something like that to Grandma, or, for that matter, to me, and it's last time the PC gets used as a photo "client."
Picture the embedded platform that goes inside these newfangled appliances. Call it AMD Torrenza or Intel Embeddapalooza. In your mind, wrap a blank piece of paper around it and picture this floating next to it: