The iConomy

Apple and HP team up at CES as convergence rewrites the power laws of the digital economy, says Messaging and Collaboration editor Steve Gillmor.

Getting used to the idea of the identity-based economy is job one for both customers and enterprise managers in 2004. This years CES was the kickoff for the iConomy, where users are defined as personal or professional based on the metadata they project to an increasingly powerful set of digital devices.

Even the cab drivers knew the high-level story: Comdex is dead, the PC revolution matured and commoditized. Now content is king, with the PC crowd crashing the consumer electronics party in search of new (and healthier) margins. Bill Gates fondles a personal video player, Intel puts $1,800 HDTVs in its pipeline, and Steve Jobs cuts in for a dance with Carly.

But beneath the surface messaging, some surprising fundamentals are emerging. Take the HP deal to market a branded iPod and point users at Apples iTunes store with its non-Microsoft music endcoding format. If the New York Times isnt making this up, the deal was hammered out the night before the CES announcement—two days after Jobs MacWorld keynote.

Surely Jobs would have mentioned the deal with his patented "Theres one more thing" Bob Barker delivery. Instead, his closer—the $250 iPod mini—left the San Francisco crowd in an uncharacteristically quiet mood as they headed off to inspect the new addition to the iPod platform.

But Jobs is a master of timing, showmanship and brinkmanship. Ask Disneys Michael Eisner, who just closed down his Orlando hand-animation shop as he tries to lock up an ongoing relationship with Jobs Pixar. The longer Jobs holds out, the more concessions Eisner has to make as he battles a board rebellion led by the Disney family.

Perhaps he put the squeeze on Carly, too. After all, what did HP have to offer to the CES crowd—a DRM lecture co-starring The Edge and someone who all she wants to do is have some fun. Hardware? Compaq won the PDA merger battle, bringing along its blend of high price and bulky functionality.

I have a drawer full of them. Palms, iPaqs, the thin Toshiba one. But what stuck to the wall? Or more to the point, landed in my pocket? Phones. Camera phones. Bluetooth connectors to laptops. The BlackBerry is hanging on, by a thread, though the Palm may work its way back in via the Treo. Like Comdex, the PDA is dead.

Next page: The iPod Platform—Apples Ticket to Ride the iConomy.