Cody Willard: Invest in technology and live la dolce vita

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I sometimes argue that the best things in life come from Italy: Armani, Lamborghini, lasagne – even coffee had to go there to become a delicacy. So I went to Italy to find me a good woman. Don’t laugh, I’m serious.

But my iPhone, proudly designed in California, wouldn’t work in Italy. Lost in some back alley at 11pm in the middle of downtown Rome on a rented motorcycle – not having eaten for hours and having narrowly escaped a ticket for not wearing my helmet – I turned right into oncoming traffic, putting the bike on its side. (I don’t know why – the belle donne had told me to turn left). I hopped back on to the bike, body and ego sore and bruised, and decided I wasn’t supposed to be in Italy.

Even though AT&T had told me otherwise, I couldn’t make a call on my iPhone. I couldn’t get it to work on the local WiFi networks, either. So I schlepped to a hotel
to access the internet – and book a seat on the next flight to New York City.

But American Airlines wouldn’t let me change my international flight using the internet, so I had to find a phone that would let me dial the US, which meant booking a room at the hotel.

Convergence has come a long way since the BlackBerry first added voice capabilities, but as my experience in Italy underscores, convergence still has a long way to go. Having said that, the iPhone and its competitors will soon usher in the golden age of converged communications.

As Apple rolls out new WiFi-based iPods and, more to the point, as next generation handsets become technology-agnostic (in other words, they’ll connect you to the internet over 3G wireless, WiFi and WiMax), we’ll all be able to call, e-mail and Facebook each other at any time.

Heck, in another year or so, I’ll be able to pull out my Windows-based Samsung “Double Black Diamond” (I made up that name) in Milan and access my Vonage account.

I’ll be able to call my assistant and ask her to call American Airlines and change my flight – and she can call me back when it’s done. Another year or two after that, I’ll be able to pull up, and watch, any video that’s ever been published.

It’s this idea of riding the internet “platform” that is so crucial to investing in technology. In coming years, your mobile phone will become increasingly like your laptop. You’ll have the same programs running on each of them. VoIP software, YouTube and other video sites and browser-based applications will work on any high-end phone just as they work on your laptop.

There will even be iChat-like real-time video chat applications on your mobile phone – riding the browser-platform that rides the internet-protocol platform.

Google and Apple remain the best plays on this converged platform concept. Adobe is the best play on the video software side. I recently started buying Level 3, as it owns the biggest and best IP pipes that connect all the wireless end-points.

And I’ve been rebuilding a long position in Sandisk, since all those gadgets are going to need lots of storage capacity and Sandisk is the purest play on the growth of the market share taking flash technology.

Of course, I met a fine Italian woman on my last night and left the next morning anyway.


The writer is a hedge fund manager at CL Willard Capital. www.codywillard.com

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