Opinion: What do you do when the future is in everyone's pocket?

Nearly 30 years ago I had a far-ranging discussion with various people including some boffins at Hewlett Packard and Ferranti (one of the stars in the UK technology arena for several decades) about the future use of computing technology.
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To put that in perspective, this was right at the earliest dawn of the personal computer, known at that time as a micro computer. The key topic was ‘when will we know that the computer has really arrived?’.

We came up with a variety of answers, but the conclusion I reached was that it would be when it enabled a true cashless society; after more discussion we decided that would be when one could go into a corner shop and buy a newspaper or a packet of chewing gum without having to use cash. I have to say, it looks like we’ve just about got there.

Today we can buy just about anything online – something that was completely unforeseen all those years ago – but more importantly, we are able to buy a variety of small items without using cash; the earliest example to hit a large number of consumers is the Oyster card, making travel simpler for so many. But perhaps the most exciting development in this arena is Near Field Communications (NFC) integrated into mobile phones.

NFC makes use of Radio Frequency ID chips to enable one or two-way communication between devices. When integrated into a mobile phone, for instance, and with suitable security, it allows that device to be charged with cash that you can then ‘wave to pay’. NFC also has other benefits and applications, for instance the current specification for Bluetooth includes the ability to pair devices via NFC simply by touching them together.

Similarly, you could connect devices to a wireless LAN hotspot in the same ‘touch to access’ manner, avoiding the lengthy and sometimes uncertain process currently used. And of course you could pay for access through the same process.

NFC is compatible with all the current contact-free ticketing systems, and the relatively low cost of terminals and cheapness and speed of broadband access means that even the lowliest corner shop could afford it, and indeed would want to, because of the increased security offered by having reduced cash in the till.

And in a country where there are far more mobile phones in circulation than there are people, and where their ever-broadening functionality ensures they are a central part in many people’s lives, the ‘handy’ as the Germans call it, will soon become the ‘indispensable’. Unless we’re unlucky enough to experience an EMP, of course, in which case we’ll all be going back to bartering!

The PCA has for a long time said that a full understanding and adoption of converged technologies is an important way forward for resellers, but conventionally we’ve thought of that as being a coming together of home and business, of consumer and corporate electronics. The mobile phone is probably today’s best embodiment of the converged world, and IT resellers who wish to become ICT convergence specialists need to become very familiar very quickly with such technologies.

One way of keeping abreast with developments is to meet the vendors who’ll be represented at Channel Expo at the NEC in Birmingham on May 21st and 22nd. The PCA will be there in force and the PCA’s directors and I look forward to meeting members and PC Retail readers on our stand. Members are invited to use the facilities of our lounge for refreshments and snacks.

I am deeply puzzled as to just why trade publication Microscope would choose the first night of Channel Expo to hold its ACES awards in London. Surely they wouldn’t want to clash with the only national trade show for resellers? Surely they wouldn’t want to clash with the PCA Networking Dinner and Awards being held in conjunction with Channel Expo? I can’t think they would want to deliberately conflict with these long-established events, in which case it must have been a deeply unfortunate mistake.

The good news is that nobody need be concerned about such conflict happening in the future. The Industry Events Calendar on the PCA website is where any enterprise in our sector can list its events and check for any conflict with other happenings.

Check it on our website, and while you’re there, if you aren’t already a PCA Member you might want to take advantage of the half price membership offer run by GfK If you want to look for a downside to the £25 membership offer (yes, that’s all it costs!), then it’s this: you will join the GfK’s panel of retailers that help to inform their research and in return you will get preferred and free access to lots of data that will help you run your business more effectively. Did I say downside?

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