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Will mobile age usher in clean tech?

Posted: 24 Aug 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile era  system design  mobile systems 

All around Silicon Valley fortunes are being shaped by the emerging era in which we will carry our primary computer in our pants pocket. I don't think we are quite there yet—my Blackberry is a slooooow and unsatisfying Web browser—but we can see this future on the near horizon.

In an excellent column, San Jose Mercury News writer Chris O'Brien pegged last week as the death of the PC, coming on the heels of the PC's 30th birthday. I wouldn't go quite that far. There will be a lively PC market for many, many years to come.

Nothing ever dies. On a pass through Silicon Valley recently, IBM's chief executive noted in passing that Big Blue still has a very healthy mainframe business. Some, including Palmisano, may argue the company has lived to be 100 in part because it got out of PCs.

Things do change, and the computer industry has been morphing from a desktop to a mobile era for years. My former boss, Richard Wallace, used to write regularly about the post-PC era and the death of the PC, typically right around the Comdex conference.

Years before O'Brien, Wallace was poking the electronics industry in its soft spots, providing prescient advice. More recently, people like Steve Jobs have started talking about a post-PC era. Of course, Apple execs are also happy on glowing quarterly conference calls to tout the growth of their Mac business, driven in part by sales of their phones and MP3 players.

Yes, there will be a PC business for years, but like me it is slowing with age, doing its best to eke out growth measured in single digits. Meanwhile everybody wants an iPhone or an Android phone, just like they used to salivate for a 386 PC or a colour television.

This is not solely the mobile era. This also needs to be the clean tech era if we are to make an even more important historical shift away from limited and environmentally unfriendly fossil fuels.

Someday the mobile era also will be over. I hope it is not replaced by an era where our economy and environment have been ravaged by an electronics industry too focused on the next feel-good gadget.

I think it would be difficult to find much evidence we are in a clean tech era. Few major corporate acquisitions or road map rewrites come to mind as I casually consider the recent past. A lot of words have been said, but not so many actions have been taken or dollars spent.

If we are driven only by consumer satisfaction we may well run off a cliff. If that happens, in 20 years we may be talking about a death much, much sadder than that of the PC.

- Rick Merritt
  EE Times

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