A year of mobile hypes and quiet consolidation

And so 2002 draws to a close. It’s been a year of quiet consolidation, with a dearth of big ideas. Text messaging has dominated digital marketing activity, and intranets – used for internal corporate communications – have provided more journalistic stimulation than good old fashioned business-to-consumer websites.

As we enter the biggest selling season of the year, DVD players and digital cameras will vie for popularity, while mobile phone sales will get a much needed fillip from new photo messaging technology – although this alone is unlikely to set the industry on fire as the hypesters are hoping. That will only happen when the still prohibitively high costs come plunging down to earth.

Other portable devices, now commonly known as PDAs, such as the Palm, will no doubt benefit from a bewildering array of enhancements and internet connectivity. But here again is a technology that has failed to live up to its early promise and has yet to become as ubiquitous as mobile phones.

Indeed, research appears to confirm a suspicion that the pendulum is swinging back towards what we might term anchored technology. Consumers are discovering that they don’t, after all, need to be quite as mobile as they were led to believe. That dream can be postponed, much as the paperless office was heralded about 20 years before it finally arrived.

What consumers want right now is more flexibility within a limited area – hence the growing interest in wireless LAN and Bluetooth – technologies that let people connect to the internet and from one device to another, without the need for wires and sockets.

In this respect, Microsoft’s new Tablet PC software, unveiled earlier this month, is a very significant event. Designed as the next big thing on computing’s evolutionary ascent – from mainframes to desktops to laptops and now a device for which you don’t need to be seated – the Tablet PC and similar concepts will be one of the biggest stories of 2003.

With any luck, next year will bring a return to technological excitement. But in the meantime, 2002 has proved that internet use is rising relentlessly and that digital technology is rapidly replacing our old analogue channels of communication.

Robert Dwek – dwek@journalist.co.uk

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