The Future is Thin

Back in 2001 I worked at a company called 2Roam. It was a poorly run start up trying to leverage the hype of the coming mobile Web. Back then the big talk was the coming of 3G wireless devices. In their opinion, these devices would be rolled out any day and then we would all by turning Japanese with our mobile devices taking the place of our bulky computers.

Well it’s now 2007, and 3G devices are still being slowly rolled out. As a matter of fact, the most anticipated phone right now, Apple’s iPhone, is not 3G.

2Roam’s business model was also pretty far off the mark. Their primary business was to convert websites to be usable (or at least visible) on mobile devices. They did this by converted the code to XSLT, and then try to make it fit on the tiny screens of mobile devices. I remember even back then starting to see some full HTML browsers on phones and thinking that their entire business model was flawed. I knew that by the time 3G became a reality, these tiny monochrome screens would be gone, and we would have access to the Web in near PC format. I knew full HTML browsers would come, but didn’t think about the idea of thin clients.

For those not familiar with the term, thin clients are just desktop applications, but tend to be very light code and act as a window to data being streamed from somewhere else. A good example of a thin client application is an OS X widget that checks movie times. It’s a thinly coded piece of software that brings in information from another source. And thin clients seem to be everywhere I look these days.

Three of the most anticipated (at least by myself) pieces of technology have strong ties to thin clients.

1. The iPhone
I don’t think I’m alone in visiting the Apple site to view my precious on a nearly weekly basis. I can’t wait to watch a movie in widescreen (I already decided that it’s going to be Office Space if they have it) and check out websites on Safari. But the thing I’m most excited about is the idea of all the third party widgets that will come out for the iPhone. For example, imagine a widget from Expedia that lets you check flight times and book a ticket right throw a simple widget. Because it’s only transferring XML data, the speed will be incredible. Or imagine shopping through Amazon while at the mall. Your account will already be signed in; you just simply do a search for an item your looking at and click you 1-click buy button.   Right now investing in Apple stock is better than investing in gold.
2. Firefox 3
How it’s not getting the attention of the iPhone, Firefox 3 is going to fundamentally change the way we use Web apps. Because Firefox 3 supports offline browsing, you will now be able to use things like Google Docs and Gmail, as well as Highrise and Basecamp, and even MySpace offline. There will likely be companies making thin client apps that plug into Firefox that allow applications through the Web to move like software. This is especially vital to Google as they turn up the heat on Microsoft. Linux + Firefox 3 + Google Apps = Google OS. It’s said that where you fight a battle is as important as with whom you fight. Google knows to take the fight with Microsoft to the ground where Microsoft is weakest, the Web.

3. Adobe Apollo
I just learned about this today, but I’m very excited to see it. Adobe Apollo is a new technology from Adobe that allows Web developers to turn their Web apps into thin client desktop apps. Imagine how much faster applications like Yahoo Mail will run when you’re not having to keep downloading graphics

There are already some great thin client apps available. For example, the OS X widget for Backpack is great. And check out this email client for Gmail on OS X.

I’m going to wrap this post up by making a prediction. The iPhone is going to change the way we look at computers. Not only will the majority of the people start accessing the web through mobile devices for the first time, but we will start using more and more thin client applications. iPhone runs OS X, has Safari, and is both WiFi and Bluetooth. This means you simply need to add a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and monitor (which would be new), and you have yourself a fill Mac. This is the computer in 5 – 7 years. I’m confident that my son will not be lugging a big laptop around when in college, but more likely have a phone which when he places near a monitor and keyboard, allows him to log into his account. When he is typing up a paper, it will be on a thin client word processor that is always saving to the Web. And when he is done, he will send to his professor by simply allowing him/her access to the file.

Let me know your thoughts.

[tags]thin clients, google, gmail, iphone, apple, os x, firefox 3, adobe, apollo, mailplane, docs, 2roam[/tags]

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