Will E-Commerce Leave Computers Behind?

How will you do your Internet holiday shopping in 2002? Will it be sitting in your living room, remote control in hand?

And how will GM parts dealers restock inventory? By walking up and down the parts aisles telling a handheld device how many replacements are needed?

And what, you may be wondering, do these disparate examples of e-commerce have in common?

Simple. There’s no computer in the hands of the user.

The Role Of Computing

During a recent Q&A session, AT&T chairman and CEO Michael Armstrong took a question from the audience about the role of the PC in the future of the Internet.

In his response, Armstrong questioned whether a computer needs to be involved at all when people access the Internet. “I don’t do any computing on the computer I use to go online,” he said. “I use some word processing, but I don’t compute.”

Paging through a day’s worth of e-commerce news makes one wonder whether our desktop computers will become bulky, awkward dinosaurs as the Internet expands at its explosive rate. It seems that there are a plethora of stories that cover wireless broadband, voice activation, compressed-voice data delivery, or handheld devices that keep you in touch with all your favorite Web sites.

The bottom line with all of these new twists and turns is that you don’t need a computer, even a sleek laptop, to maneuver online.

Access Not A One-Way Street

The trend toward computer-less Internet access is coming from many different directions. My son’s Sega Dreamcast can access the Internet through AT&T. If you sign up for a three-month access program for $29.95 (US$) per month, AT&T will send along a free keyboard.

I had originally thought that $199 was pricey for a toy. It only occurred to me later that I had purchased an Internet access platform.

In a few quick years, a whole range of consumer and business products will become Internet platforms. “The Internet is reshaping all communications, including the world of wireless services, ranging from audio e-mail for consumers to broadband Internet access for business people on the road,” said Cisco executive vice president Don Listwin when explaining why Cisco teamed with Software.com to work together on entering the wireless market.

When those business people come off the road, having used their nifty-quick wireless devices, they may not turn back to their computers to go back online in the home or office. They may develop a knack for dictating e-mail, and by comparison, the keyboard may seem a bit sluggish. The consumer will be too busy talking to all his appliances to bother logging on an ancient telephone wire.

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