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Bill Gates on Mobile Computing

Looking back at Gates’ “Wallet PC” prediction twenty years later…

Bill Gates (who I lovingly refer to as “my old boss”) with some surprisingly accurate predictions about 20 years ago in his book “The Road Ahead”:

Wallet PCs with the proper equipment will be able to tell you where you are anyplace on the face of the Earth. GPS receivers… will be built into many wallet PCs. The wallet PC will connect you to the information highway while you travel a real highway and tell you where you are. Its built-in speaker will be able to dictate directions to you to let you know that a freeway exit is coming up or that the next intersection has frequent accidents. It will monitor digital traffic reports and warn you that you’d better leave for the airport early or suggest an alternate route…

Some wallet PCs will be simple and elegant and offer only the essentials such as a small screen, a microphone, a secure way to transact business with digital money, and the capability to read or otherwise use basic information. Others will bristle with all kinds of gadgets, including cameras, scanners that will be able to read printed text or handwriting, and receivers with the global-positioning capability. Most will have a panic button for you to press when you need emergency help. Some models will include thermometers, barometers, altimeters, and heart-rate sensors. Prices will vary accordingly, but generally wallet PCs will be priced about the way cameras are today…

While ubiquitous mobile payment infrastructure is not yet a reality, his concept of a “wallet PC” is otherwise very similar to a typical smartphone today. He even predicted the notion of more and more sensors being integrated, which is something that was truly surprising to me. Even his concept of pricing - about what cameras went for in the mid 90s - was pretty close to the mark (at least in the US with subsidized pricing.)

Pretty good stuff.