Today, at the Digital Life show at the Javits Center in NYC, Zipit Wireless will be launching the Z2. To be honest, the Z2 is not necessarily a killer technology for businesspeople (and that's what I'm hunting for while I'm here in NYC). The company is targeting youth with this product. But, perhaps what's most interesting about the Z2 is how it's evidence of something we've been talking about for years: the eventuality that we'll be spending less time with general purpose PCs and more time with a variety of specialized network-enabled devices, each of which, as a matter of simplicity, handles one, two, or just a small handful of the tasks that we use our PCs for today.
In the case of the Z2, Zipit Wireless has built a tiny portable WiFi-enabled device for $150 that does just four things: instant messaging (via Yahoo, AOL, or MSN), MP3 playback, and photo viewing. For storage (where you'd keep your photos and MP3's), the Z2 has an SD slot. As you can see from the video above, the Z2 is based on a clamshell design with a small BlackBerry-esque keyboard and it comes in a variety of colors. In the video, I interview Zipit Wireless founder Ralph Heredia who told me that one of the reasons for the Z2 to exist is that, if all someone is using a PC for is to IM (like your kids might be doing), then it make no sense to take up the entire PC just for that activity. I can relate. I've seen this happen on the PCs in my house.
He's right. Using a PC for nothing more than IM is overkill. In the bigger picture, the question this brings up, what else don't we need the PC for and what's the specialized network-enabled device or devices that will take up that responsibility? (use the comments section below if you have any thoughts on this).
Next question: will the Z2 succeed in the market? At $150, I'm not so sure. That's because we're already at the point that the same target market that Zipit Wireless is going after is already equipped with devices (their phones) that (1) do this already, (2) cost less to buy, and (3) work from almost anywhere (compared to just in WiFi hotspots). That said, the chief differentiator between the Z2 and those phones is that there is no ongoing service fee (as there is for the monthly cell phone service) and there is no charge for instant messaging over AIM, YIM, or MSN the way there often is when using a phone for text messaging (or the data fees associated with instant messaging).