Thirty years on and anyone digging a Walkman out of their attic will wonder what the furore was all about - it has the stying of a washing machine and the profile of a brick. And the media! Cassette tape, prone to stretching, intolerant of mishandling and, for goodness sake, limited to forty-five minutes of music on each side - OK there were 2 hour cassettes but the agreed wisdom was that the longer tapes failed quicker.
Compare that to today - solid state memory rules for portable music devices, although I suspect the days of dedicated MP3 players is near to an end as screens suitable for watching movies seem to appear on virtually every domestic device these days. Creative did have a strong pitch to rival Apple in the early days of the iPod with it's Zen range of hard-drive MP3 players, but I think it lost that battle pretty quickly thanks to the solid state technology and Apple's dominance of the legitimate MP3 market.
But as I pointed out above, it's getting harder to find devices that just play music - images are becoming a must as well as Internet surfing capability. A recent US study identified that a significant number of sports games were watched on mobile phones and tablet devices - not enough to threaten the TV based viewing figures just yet but double the number compared to other computer based devices such as PCs.
This is another example of the convergence in technology we're seeing and I think the only element slowing down this process is the availability of open wireless networks. In the UK, outside of your own home, the availability of free wireless networks is patchy, confined to coffee shops and MacDonald's. Some hotels and guest houses offer it but increasingly the bigger hotel chains expect customers to pay anything from £5 a day to £5 an hour.
While I think it's a great marketing opportunity for commercial traders to draw customers into their business premises, there's an obvious gap here, only filled to a minimal amount by 3G. Yet most cities and larger towns are increasingly desperate to draw in tourists, and those that are unlikely to appeal to holiday makers are trying to make themselves attractive to commerce. Yet I'm unaware that any such location in the UK is looking at providing a free WiFi service for it's inhabitants and visitors. They seem to think that leaving it to the commercial sector to provide Internet access is adequate.
I don't. I think the first towns and cities in this country to build in free WiFi within its tourist and commercial sectors will find both sectors growing, probably exponentially. It won't be the same for every town and city to join the club, though - fortune will tend to favour those who do it first. The ones that come later will do so because they have seen other towns and cities do well because of their initiative, but by then the public expectation will be that WiFi is available for free everywhere.
So the moral is this: Someone will bite the bullet and fill their town or city with free WiFi and will reap the commercial and tourist benefits, hopefully soon. Everyone after them will be playing catch up to some degree until we reach a point where free WiFi is as expected as street lighting. Which is interesting, as street lighting has a number of useful features that would be needed for such a network - height and electrical power supplies, for example. At least street lights would be earning their keep 24 hours a day instead of just at night time if they had WiFi network routers strapped to them. Telephone poles might seem to be a more natural anchor, but they are disappearing fast underground - that shouldn't happen to street lights.
Come that day, or night, then we'll all be wired for sound and vision.
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