Stop the Noiz

Making the Computer Even More Personal

Frank Fox - 2010.01.25 - Tip Jar

On the launch of MTV 28 years ago was a video titled "Video Killed the Radio Star". MTV brought an age of video stardom to rock bands. This transition was expected to mirror the change that had happened decades earlier when radio stars were replaced by TV stars.

Video Killed the Radio Star

Some performers made the transition; others had their careers end.

Technology has long had the power to change industries almost overnight. Silent movies were replaced by talking ones. Black and white movies were replaced by color. CDs and DVDs have replaced albums and videotapes. People are dropping their landlines and going wireless.

Computers for Work

For the longest time, computers were somewhat immune to this phenomenon. Instead of being replaced being completely replaced, they were becoming smaller. Computers went from taking up a huge room to fitting in a box on a desk. The box using solid state electronics has stuck with us for around 40 years. In this shape they have gotten faster and smarter, but they are largely unchanged in appearance or purpose.

While we have replaced our desktop computers every 3 to 5 years, the next one was mostly the same. They ran the same kinds of programs (word processors, spreadsheets, and databases). Throw in a few games, and almost nothing has changed, except that green text on a black screen has been replaced with a WYSIWYG window of information.

For most of these 40 years, portable computers - and later notebooks - have existed alongside their desktop counterparts. Computing was so useful that we wanted to bring it from work to home, and then from home to school, and now to our coffee shops and restaurants.

Over these 40 years, computers have transitioned from the boring work of basic computing (number crunching, data storage, and text processing) to being interactive and fun.

Making Computers Fun

Three important elements converged to bring fun to the world of computers.

First, there are games. These brought a demand for better graphics. Sure, there are practical reasons for improved graphics capability, but video games managed to put these pixels to more entertaining use.

Another important element is sound, especially music. Music became popular on computers through listening to CDs and later copying the music from CDs for storage on the computer. Once stored, music can then be listened to and shared more easily. We enjoyed sharing our musical choices with family and friends.

The third element is the Internet. It became the means by which we share sounds and images. Sharing is an expression of ourselves. It comes from our deepest need for family and support. The Internet was the opposite of "computing". The Internet is a virtual teleportation device that links people on opposite sides of the world.

Making Computing More Personal

As we are become less interested in calculating answers, we spend increasingly more time enjoying and sharing in online communities. Internet successes show our real interests: Napster (the original, where people shared music), eBay, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. These businesses/websites are not about computing; they are about sharing, buying, searching, showing off, talking, acting out our views and ideas.

This change is killing off the PC as a desktop computer. Sure, we may still have a box on a desk, but we are more likely to have a notebook or netbook or smartphone with us. Each device is more personal than the other, and we want the experience with us wherever we go.

Cellular and WiFi connectivity are playing their role in freeing us from desktop PCs and bringing in a new era of personal communication devices. This will define the next 40 years of devices that people will carry with them. The iPhone, which embodies the new class of personal communication device, will be seen by future generations as the tool that killed the desktop PC.

The desktop PC will not disappear completely. There is still work for it to do, but like my radio, vinyl record albums, or CRT monitors, it will be pushed more into the background. The smartphone will continue growing until it eventually surpasses the desktop in popularity.

We all owe a big thanks to Apple for pushing the technology from childhood to adulthood (or at least into the teenage years).

If you need more proof, look at how the Mac App Store has grown into a billion dollar business in just two years. Or see how regular cell phone growth has slowed this year during a bad economy, but smartphones are growing at a 27% rate over last year.

Were there is growth, there is money. Because of this you can expect to see more companies trying to enter this market, including Dell.

Like technologies before, careers will be made and lost in this transition. LEM

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