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When the Zenith Space Command remote control went into production in 1956, few could have predicted that this ultrasonic gadget would be the catalyst for a whole new era of wireless devices, and the birth of the couch potato generation.

Zenith’s ultrasonic technology has been replaced by infrared or radio frequency-controlled remotes that boast color touch-sensitive screens, internet connectivity, system automation and built-in TV guides, turning the humble clicker into an access point for the digital home entertainment center.

Another catalyst was Alliance Manufacturing’s garage door opener. In May 1954, the company decided to produce Genie — the world’s first mass-produced, radio-controlled residential garage door opener.

A long line is forming in San Francisco. Breaking Dawn movie? Celebrity photo signing? No, it’s “iDay” — the line waiting to buy the first Apple iPhone on June 29, 2007. Some people even camped out while waiting for the popular smartphone to go on sale.

These wireless pioneers laid the foundation for the Unwired Ubertrend, a whirlwind that has gone far beyond serving couch potatoes. Unwired has created a culture that treasures such values as connectedness, freedom, convenience, convergence and most importantly, control (see Control Freak).

Here are the subtrends that Unwired propels:

  • Mobile phones – The mobile phone has become Unwired’s biggest exponent, with some 5.3 billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide. And now that 83% of Americans already own a cellphone and 35% own a smartphone, it’s the smartphone’s turn to revolutionize America’s mobile lifestyle.
  • CrackBerry – For many users, mobile e-mail has the same addictive quality as crack cocaine. In fact, the ubiquitous BlackBerry smartphone, now in use by 70 million corporate and consumer users worldwide, has become colloquially known as the “CrackBerry.”
  • iOS triumvirate – In June 2007, Apple joined the fray with the iPhone, which inundated the mobile phone market like a veritable tsunami. A staggering 145 million iPhones have been sold as of October 2011, plus 65 million iPod Touches and 40 million iPads. Together these three mobile devices constitute a 250-million-unit iOS platform for which 500,000 apps have been created, 140,000 available just for the iPad.
  • Mobile internet – The popularity of smartphones suggests that the mobile internet could one day be larger than the computer-accessed internet. When Mary Meeker was still at Morgan Stanley she predicted that within five years “more users will connect to the Internet over mobile devices than desktop PCs.”
  • Tablets – That forecast seems very reasonable now that the Apple iPad is becoming the wireless channel for such lean-backward media as magazines, newspapers and television. Analyst firm Ticonderoga Securities predicts that Apple will ship 45 million iPads in 2011.

Now that’s a wireless world that would have made Zenith proud.

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