Traveling Light

6:10 PM -- We talk about simplicity, but as much as I love tech, sometimes being a tech consumer can be a burden, both figuratively and literally! I'm writing this while sitting on a flight from the West Coast to the East Coast of the U.S. So, when a family takes off on a one week summer “visit the family and tour D.C. and Boston” trip, what do they carry with them? A lot, and in my view, it borders on the wacky.

So what's along for the ride? What's the electronic inventory that gets carried along by a husband/wife and three small kids?

It's all good -- believe it or not, it's lighter that you think. Eight of these devices have wireless connections (five WWAN [phones and the Kindle], one WiFi + WWAN [ThinkPad], one WiFi [Asus], and one GPS). And it sure is the type of outcome that consumer electronics manufacturers want to see.

As we live the digital life over time, I'm sure that many of these devices will continue to converge, and even today, there are ways to compromise and carry less stuff. But right now, it is a compromise... The GPS on the phones is not as easy/functional as the TomTom. The cameras/UI/optics on the phones just isn’t in the same league as a real digital camera. I suppose we could all buy iPhones, to eliminate the need for separate iPods, but the subscription prices for iPhones are a killer, and the storage would max at 16GB, which doesn't cut it for digital media. The Amazon OneBox service for downloading full DVD quality Video over EV-DO is very good, but slow to download, even with a cable modem at home, and will be pretty much untenable technically and economically to download via conventional wireless WAN. And as I’ve written before, the Kindle is a great first step in showing the possibilities of a reading device with WWAN built-in.

So, as far as I can see, at least, the Belk family is stuck with digital device proliferation for now. But one request that I'd like to SHOUT at the manufacturers: STOP with PROPRIETARY POWER CONNECTORS! Make it all USB charging, please, please. If you want folks to use a bunch of this stuff, make it so we don't need to double our weight in power adapters, carry what is effectively paperweights if an adapter is forgotten, or pay egregious sums of money if we forget or lose an adapter (as I forgot my A/C adaptor for my Canon camera!). Just make it USB today, and some type of inductive charging in the future. Thank you.

A postscript on the State of Open Source Apps and other emerging laptop services: When I left my former employer, they let me keep my three-year-old Thinkpad. Good move, as there's not much secondary market for a laptop has been dropped, battered, pretzel crumbed, and sneezed upon for three years. They scrubbed the drive, and I got a clean PC with nothing but an XP SP1 License.

Now being on my own, I really did not want to spend hundreds on a memory upgrade for Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Vista, then another $150 for Vista itself, than another $279 for MS Office. So, six months ago, I did an experiment. I have licensed copy of Outlook through my Enterprise Exchange Service provider, which also runs the Blackberry server for my Blackberry, so I was set there. I downloaded Open Office, which has been staggeringly compatible with my existing Microsoft Word/Excel/PPT files. I downloaded Mozilla Thunderbird (email client), for IMAP access to my Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Account. I downloaded various media players. Skype and Yahoo Messenger for international calling, but from the U.S. to overseas, and all around while I'm traveling overseas (see my post on egregious roaming charges). And I recently downloaded Amazon Unbox (no DVD on the Thinkpad), and actually rented/downloaded/watched The Bucket List on my flight just now.

This experience, combined with having the Linux-based ASUS EEE seems a cautionary tale on how Microsoft treats consumers... $300-$500 for Vista plus Office just might not have been needed for a lot of folks out there. For me, Microsoft Outlook and an Exchange Server/Service IS critical -- the other stuff, gotta do your own economic elasticity analysis. Like some of my comments to the operators, consumers will always find ways to disaggregate bizarre pricing; they did it illegally years ago, but given the solutions today, they can just use alternatives...

— Jeff Belk is a principal at ICT168 Capital LLC, focused on developing and guiding global growth opportunities in the Information and Communication Technology space. He can be reached at [email protected]. Special to Unstrung

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