Peripherals: Going Center-stage

There’s a new “intelligent camera” almost on theshelves. It’s going to capture image and sound of course, but it will also letyou edit and play back a presentation via a data projector or TV. Without a PC.

You walk up to the “IR Point” at Singapore Changiinternational with your Palm, and you’re online. No cables, no adapters orbattery chargers. Your handheld’s instantly talking IP with the airportnetwork–over a small infra-red link.

PeripheralsDrivers
  • Become independent of PCs
  • Get intelligent and multi-functional
  • Get simpler and easier to use
  • Enter new ground–beyond traditional IT limits
  • Blur the lines between each other, and with PCs
  • Double their speeds and capacities every six months, while prices drop.
  • The Internet
  • The home and small business market
  • The convergence of applications.

New smart TVs store your favorite program for you while you’reaway, filter all the stuff you don’t want your kids to watch, double up as abrowser for Web access, and use audio/video streaming to give commercial-freemovies and television serials.

Welcome to a new world of computer peripherals that will makelife much easier for you.

It’s often said that when the PC industry sneezes, theperipherals industry catches a cold. And yes, the peripherals industry’sperformance is closely linked to PC performance, in India as in the world. Afterall, you use peripherals with PCs. If users don’t buy PCs, why will they buymonitors and printers?

Yet the peripherals industry is beginning to take centerstage–in its own right. And it’s not just a computer peripherals industrytoday, but a peripherals industry. Not only is the number of peripheral productsper PC sold on the increase–many peripherals are also evolving into standaloneproducts, eliminating the need for a PC.

What used to be a peripheral product or an add-on to a PCearlier is now often on its own. Digital cameras and Webcams let usersvideo-conference, chat, attach video and still images, often with non-PC devicescontrolling them. Click, Iomega’s storage drive, as well as IBM’sMircroDrive hard disk, is now deployed in MP3s and set-top boxes.

Attempts at doing things another way–integrating theperipheral into the PC itself–have been less successful. For instance, theVisioneer PaperPort scanner was integrated into the keyboard, but it didn’t dowell. Compaq tried integrating a photo scanner with its home PCs in the US,without great success. There are exceptions: built-in modems are reasonablysuccessful, and the iMac has integrated the monitor to cut down cables further.Now, a large percentage of consumer PCs in the US ship with CD-RW.

Convergence, and specialization

Often, the line has appeared to blur between differentperipherals. Multi-function devices bring together the functions of printing,copying, scanning and faxing in one simple machine. This is one bit ofconvergence that did not work: multi-function devices mostly failed, as theytried to be too many things to too many people without being good at anythingparticular.

But mobile devices have really leveraged convergence: thecoming together of voice and video with data on the same digital media, wired orwireless. The cellphone has brought a range of applications to the shirt-pocket.Browsing,
e-mail and voice have all been integrated into the tiny handset.

Then there are the “intelligent TV” sets whichinclude hard disks. You select the programs you want, and the TV set stores iton the hard disk for instant playback when you’re ready to watch them. Overtime, it learns your preferences, and stores the kind of programs or movies thatyou like. Now imagine: if even one-fourth of TV sets in the world included harddisks, this would be exciting news for Seagate and Quantum…

Customer demands are clearly driving the need for lesscomplicated, easy-to-use, intelligent products. Consumer product buyers are notIT-savvy, and they want their products to be easy to use, and reliable. So moreand more sophisticated infotech will be incorporated, and powerful software andtouch screens will help make easier interfaces.

And with an explosion in digital devices being incorporatedinto appliances, they’re also getting more specialized. The hard disk drive isa case in point.

Hard disk drives made their presence in the 1960s; they’vegrown rapidly in capacity and speed, while reducing size and price steadily. Itis now expected that speed and capacity of the disks will double every six tonine months. Despite that, data storage demands will outstrip that growth, andover half of IT spending in an enterprise will be in the storage segment. Smallportable hard disks, 100 and 120MB diskettes, removable Jazz drives, they’reall creating a whole new market for personal storage products.

Geography makes for its own flavors, though, and next to theUS and Europe, there’s a vibrant market for peripherals in Asia. Japan hasbeen emerging as a unique market, a leader and innovator in several areas. Thehard disk drive industry which started off in the US with IBM’s 1956 diskdrive was almost taken over by Japanese giants in the mid-1960s. And Japan hasbeen creating new products such as digital cameras, LCD displays, et al. InJapan, desktop PCs ship with flat-panel LCD displays rather than the CRTcommonplace worldwide. IDC believes that the trend towards bundling home PCswith printers will increase, and also help boost the home market itself.

The pace of change

Industry analysts expect that the speed, memory and capacityof peripheral products will double every six months, while prices will fallsteadily. Take the digital camera. Barely two years old, they now have theability to record short movies and audio, add text to images, organize photos infiles and folders within embedded software, and enable users to access andcontrol advanced photographic settings.

It’s the same story, though in slower motion, withinterfaces and connectivity standards. Most PC interfaces such as the paralleland serial port are nearly dead from old age. Apple pioneered the SCSI use onthe desktop in 1984 with the Mac, and then USB use in 1998 with the iMac. Now,it’s looking at IEEE-1394 standard. Until recently, most digital camerastransferred images to the computer using a serial cable. Now, more cameras areusing a faster USB connection, the faster “universal serial bus” thatis replacing parallel and serial ports. PC card readers that accept storage PCcards have made transferring images even faster by connecting to a computer justas a diskette drive does, as has IrDA infra-red transfer.

The internet is the most significant contributor to thechanges driving the peripherals industry. With the increasing popularity of theNet and the need to have remote functioning across the Web, peripherals arere-shaping themselves to adapt to customer needs. The ability to integratevarious technologies into simple devices is yet another factor that hasinfluenced the changes in the peripherals industry.

With all these changes, the nature of the peripheral and theperipherals industry is changing radically. It is stretching out to embrace theconsumer durables industry, rather than being restricted to the status of aninfotech accessory. The peripheral could soon apply for a change of name andmarital status, as it moves from the periphery to center-stage.

AKILA SUBRAMANIAM
in Chennai

 

 

 

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