Radio vs. Laptops

Apple CEO Steve Jobs disappointed our Wall Street friends yesterday when he made some new product announcements. Apparently some of them expected more. One thing that I thought was noteworthy was Apple's foray into slim, lightweight laptop computers.

The new Apple Air is as slim as you can make a computer with a full keyboard, iPhone touch technology so what's not to like.

I've learned to watch Jobs very carefully. This new lightweight laptop is not just another product in his portable line of computers. He's making this move for a reason some in the media business may not fully appreciate.

I polled one of my USC classes Monday -- as I frequently do -- to find out what is precious to them. What do they desire. What can they not live without.

The findings may or may not surprise you, but I thought I'd pass them along. (And for those of you who feel compelled to remind me that these students are a mere slice of humanity of privileged students, no need to say a word. It still has significance).

I asked, "how many of you by a show of hands cannot live without a radio"?

No hands went up.

"How about TV -- how many can't live without a television"?

No hands went up.

"How many can't live without their cell phones"?

For the first time, seven people out of 40 raised their hands. I challenged them -- "I'll bet you can't do it". The seven -- to a person -- insisted they can give up their cell phones. It was the first time I have had more than one person say they could live life in a world of texting and calling without a cell phone.

How about laptops or PCs -- "I realize that you need a computer to do your school work, but putting that aside, how many of you can't live without your computers".

All hands went up.

Suddenly the laptop and PC have become indispensable -- more valuable than even their cell phones.


The next generation uses their laptops for everything. Computers are fast becoming a TV and while the baby boomers among us would rather watch a nice flat screen for viewing, the next generation is happy to cozy up to their laptops and insert a DVD. Or watch a TV show in time delay (but turn the sound off during the commercial pre-roll).

Their laptops are the home of their iTunes library which they visit a lot more often than let's say an on-campus book library -- I can tell you that for sure.

Of course they have email, more texting and special programs available on their personal computers -- their gateway to the world.

Jobs knows this.

It didn't surprise me then that he is now making it possible (at a minimum $1,700 plus asking price) to cut the size of a computer in half and allow it to travel light as air. Which is why he named it Apple Air. For those of us who are on planes every week, maybe Apple Air means not having to say hernia buster when we stuff our briefcases into the overhead stowage bins.

Computers have been getting smaller and smaller as have cell phones and iPods. They will eventually converge on the right size for how we like to live. My iPhone is exactly as big and light as I want it. Any smaller and I'll have problems holding it in my hand to make calls or take advantage of the beautiful screen.

All of this is very important to content providers -- yes, that's you radio, television and print.

If they had the technology to invent a laptop back in the 1920s when radio was being developed, we'd all have grown up on laptops. There would have been no need to invent something you just listen to and can't see.

When TV came along, we might have liked a larger look, but we likely would have expected text, audio and video -- again, assuming that a computer was invented instead of radio and then television.

The lesson may be that today's consumer -- the largely populated Gen Y - expects to hear things when they want to hear, see video when they want to see and read when they want text.

You can't make them own a radio if they don't want or need it (That goes for HD, too -- need I say that? I guess I must because the HD Alliance is still trying to get them to buy HD radios).

You can't make them watch a flat screen for their TV needs because you think bigger is better.

You can't make them buy a newspaper -- even if you trim it down and make it easier to hold -- if they want to get their own news when they want, where they want.

The laptop and the mobile device are potent two delivery systems of the future.

Apple has recognized it and the music-related media must never forget it.

If you want to take a quantum leap into the future and start cooperating with the inevitable -- think content.

Delivery systems change. Content adapts.

Just because radio companies paid billions to consolidate radio stations does not mean that future generations will want to listen to content on radios.

There will be no more radio.

No more TV.

No more newspaper.

Just audio, video and text -- adapted for the delivery systems that consumers crave.

Stand back and see it happening before our eyes even now.

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