I don't have a good track record with regard to predictions about mobile computing. This is probably because I am an immobile kind of guy. I work from a home office adjacent to my bedroom, so most days consist of getting up, going into the next room to work, staying there all day, then going to the other side of the house for supper and TV.
Unlike me, Dave Molta, of our sister Network Computing magazine, does know something about mobile technologies, and he has some predictions for which mobile technologies are likely to succeed in 2006. He likes 3G, RFID, and smartphones, thinks WiMAX and municipal Wi-Fi will be disappointing, and is ambivalent about 802.11n.Even I could see the sense of public-access Wi-Fi. There was a great deal of hooraw when the first coffee shops enabled Wi-Fi access for their customers, even more when the Starbucks chain rolled it out nationwide, with some skeptics grumbling that it was all a fad.
But that was in 2002, and then discussion faded, and public-access Wi-Fi has quietly become something we all take for granted. We know if we're on the road traveling (and even I leave the house occasionally, if only to stock up on Diet Dr Pepper and Lean Cuisine frozen dinners) we can count on finding somewhere to pull over, open our laptop computers and do a little work or recreational Web surfing.
Ron Miller writes about the business experiences of cafes and restaurants that install Wi-Fi for their customers. Miller explains that Wi-Fi puts butts in seats--and, while those butts are in seats, the hands and mouths attached to the butts are likely to buy and consume some coffee and Danish. Moreover, Wi-Fi users tend to come in when business is otherwise slow. The pick-up-a-cup-of-coffee-on-the-way-to-work crowd trickles off by about 9 am, but that's when the Wi-Fi users start coming in; they populate the cafes--and buy some stuff--in the otherwise quiet time between meals.
Public Wi-Fi is a very, very genteel and low-key aspect of capitalism. Businesses give something away, trusting that they'll get more back in return. For the consumer, nobody's hustling you to buy! buy! buy! every three minutes.
The frenetic activity of the bazaar or stock market are certainly invigorating, but there's also something nice about a quiet place where you can sit, work, think, and people-watch.
And you get coffee and chocolate, too. What could be better than that?
What do you think will be the hits and misses for mobile and wireless technology this year? And here's a question for owners of coffee shops, cafes and other small restaurants: Do you offer public access Wi-Fi?