Those of us in the world of technology often become so caught up in the technology itself that we forget we are creating it for people—real people—who not only use their laptops and portable devices for work but for communication. And perhaps most importantly, to communicate with our families when we’re on the road. This new role of technology hit home recently, when my son Ben, who works with me and covers consumer technologies for Creative Strategies, went with me to Tokyo to speak at a conference.
On our second day there, my wife called to say that Ben’s 20-month-old daughter was running an extremely high temperature and they were taking her to the emergency room. Though it was 7:00 p.m. in Tokyo, it was 2:00 a.m. in San Jose, and as you can imagine, news of a middle-of-the-night rush to the hospital caused both of us immediate stress and concern. Thank goodness we had a cell phone that worked in Japan, so we were always in touch with them. And fortunately, the fever went down once the doctors treated her, and by the morning she was doing much better.
Still, the fact that my son and I were thousands of miles from home during his baby’s health crisis had us feeling helpless and guilty for not being there. Inevitably, these things happen to people who travel for business and for pleasure, so it’s reassuring to know there are a few key technologies that can make a difficult situation at least more tolerable.
The first, of course, is the cell phone. A second technology, however, became even more important to us during this trip. In my last column, I mentioned that I had made the switch to a Mac laptop. Apple has created an extremely high-quality video camera called iSight, and we had planned to use it for videoconferencing. Under the circumstances, though, it became even more important to us. Ben was able to see and talk to his daughter and she could see him. During the call she did something that really boosted our spirits. Although I am sure she knew he was not there physically and only coming to her through this “video box,” she leaned toward the image of Ben on her screen and kissed him. At that point, the laptop and video camera were golden to us. And it really hit me—this mobile computer, which I take for granted and see mostly as just another tool for my work, has become much more than that. Thanks to this video camera, which also can handle VoIP calls, my laptop is now also a personal communications tool connecting me to my loved ones, as well as to my office.
The importance of mobile technologies in the personal lives of mobile workers has not escaped the major laptop vendors’ sights. All are creating laptops that have much larger screens for playing movies, and some even have wide-screen versions that are optimized for new movie formats. They are also thinking harder about what other things a person needs on the road—things that impact business but are also used to manage personal digital “stuff,” plus serve as a flexible platform for communication technologies such as VoIP and video conferencing options with high-quality cameras and directional microphones.
My experience in Tokyo made it clear to me that the laptops we use in our normal business lives are evolving into so much more. They are slowly becoming the hubs of our mobile digital lifestyles, and vendors need to see that next-generation products factor the human side of computing into what are already very good business devices.
Tim Bajarin is president and CEO of Campbell, Calif.–based Creative Strategies (www.creativestrategies.com).