A season for simplicity

People want simplicity for Christmas. You can tell by what’s selling. Like notebook computers. Those small, un-souped-up machines outsold desktops for the first time ever in the third quarter, so says a Tuesday report from tech research firm iSupply.

The appeal isn’t just low price. After an era of excess, we’re all stripping down, aren’t we? Nintendo’s Wii and the Flip video camera, from venture-backed Pure Digital Technologies of San-Francisco, are the other hot items this holiday, as the New York Times noted in a story titled “The Year of the Simpler Gadget” this past Sunday. The Wii is “dimwittingly simple,” the story said. And I can attest to that. I set up Wii Sports in just 20 minutes the other night. By myself. Then I walloped my cute, bobble-headed opponents in a tennis game.

A videogame virgin (and techno-nerd, truth be told), I got positively hooked on “Guitar Hero” while visiting friends, the Bristols, in New Jersey two weeks ago. Finger-tapping the mini-guitar’s colored buttons, what a blast! (That’s me on the left, below. My friends Susan and Hank and their son, Ben, beat me every time, but who cares?)

I recall the day three summers ago when Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision Blizzard , called me and told me that he’d just bought a tiny company called Red Octane that sold this cool videogame called “Guitar Hero” — the magic was in its simplicity and accessibility, Kotick told me, and could he bring some “Guitar Heroes” to Fortune’s Brainstorm conference for attendees to try out? He did. By courting mainstream consumers, he has since sold more than 22 million units.

“Rock Band,” from Electronic Arts and Viacom has come on as fierce competition, but “Guitar Hero” still leads in sales. “We’ll have six and a half billion hours of Guitar Hero consumption in North America this year,” Kotick told attendees at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech confab in July.

No, I’m not getting my own “Guitar Hero.” I’ll confine my jamming to New Jersey visits. But I am buying myself and Jessica Shambora, my partner here on Postcards, Flip camcorders. The Flip is super-cheap, at $130. It’s also a super-simple way for us to share with you some of the interesting conversations we have with smart and powerful people in business and beyond.

Merry Christmas!

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