Left to Their Own Devices

By Tom Peters | Two news items that scurried across my attention in July have led me to conclude that, in this era of overlapping eras, we have entered yet another age.

The first item was an industry report that Apple shipped more than eight million iPod devices in the second quarter of 2006. That's almost three million per month or 100,000 per day, and the second quarter is not a big gift-giving quarter, unless Apple packaged all those iPods in large plastic Easter eggs. (Remember, you read it here first.)

The second item is a report in the NY Times (free subscription required) of an "official" confirmation, sent as an e-mail message, from Microsoft that it is indeed developing a device—code name Zune—to compete with Apple's iPod. If Microsoft hopes to ship thirty-five million Zunes in 2007 or 2008, it needs to best the iPod in some significant, indisputable manner. It won't be able to do that on the coolness factor, but it may be able to do so on the features and price fronts, which I always have considered chinks in iPod's shining white armor. Yellow Ice Cube, har, har

The new age I see dawning is the age of the personal, portable information / communication / entertainment device. Granted, that's a long gray name for a bright new age, but if you vocalize the acronym—PP ICE Device—it has certain melodious qualities. (I can already envision some waggish comments to this post, such as, "Don't eat the yellow ICE, har, har," and, "This fool is predicting a new ICE age when the scientific evidence of global warming is undeniable.")

PP ICE devices are intensely personal and eminently portable. We carry them in our purses, briefcases, backpacks, and pockets—even in our underwear. I could find boomboxer styles for both women and men, but no briefs or thongs. Already we use them to communicate with others, to interact with information objects (digital audiobooks, e-books, documents, etc.), and to experience entertainment objects (music, videos, TV shows, etc.) while on the go.

The forthcoming iPod–Zune slugfest is just part of a larger industry battle to determine which PP ICE device design will dominate. When I discussed this with several library-information vendors at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans last month, they thought the basic cell-phone design would eventually prevail. Personally, I think the portable MP3 player will morph into a portable media player, then merge with portable gaming devices to give the cell phone a run for its (um, our) money.

Another Yellow Ice CubeNotice that the cell phone emerged from the communication sector of the ICE race, and MP3 players, portable media devices, and portable gaming devices all emerged from the entertainment sector of the ICE race. The devices that emerged out of the information-storage and -retrieval sector are not shipping more than eight-million units per quarter. The PDA line did well for a while, but dedicated-reading devices really don't have much chance of becoming serious PP ICE contendas.

Librarianship needs to take the PP ICE device era more seriously and plan for the day when most library content and services will be delivered predominantly to PP ICE devices. Many libraries will need to address digital-divide issues by purchasing some of these devices to circulate, but in most instances patrons will be using their own (or company-owned) devices to access library content and services.

If the "I" (information) already is the weak spot on this new ICE sheet, librarians need to work together, as well as with the information-technology and -content industries, to strengthen it. Let's not leave library patrons on thin ICE... let's not leave them to their own devices.
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