Last week I was doing what I normally do – watching twitter – and noticed the seeds of an interesting conversation starting off from the #live11 conference around the end of the PC era. I think that’s just plain wrong and misses some important points and has the potential to derail the space time continuum in some way, so I jumped in. The debate raged in 140 chars (actually more like 100 minus the #tags and @names etc.) so we decided to take it further. The main protagonist in this story is Michael Greenland who it turns out is a stunningly good designer. He also uses both PC and Mac for his day to day role, lets divorce ourselves from that and the person though because it’s not the point, the point it to introduce a good egg.
So why don’t I agree with the post PC era, well you might say it’s because I work for Microsoft. I do, I love it here.
The premise is that the PC is based on this ancient definition from Wikipedia:
A personal computer is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals, and which is intended to be operated directly by an end-user with no intervening computer operator. In contrast, the batch processing or time-sharing models allowed large expensive mainframe systems to be used by many people, usually at the same time. Large data processing systems require a full-time staff to operate efficiently.
There are a number of things wrong here, the first of which is that we’re dealing with technology and (gulp) things change, but there are many things here that are right. Lets deal with what’s wrong. It’s the 3rd sentence.
Large data processing systems require a full-time staff to operate efficiently.
We’ve obviously fixed this with cloud – industry high-five! Sentence two needs to be updated to reflect cloud too but sentence one is spot on. Mr Jobs is usually attributed with saying we’re in the post-pc era (June 2 2010 according to TechRepublic) however there have been naysayers for years 2004 is the earliest I can find reference to. Any way we aren’t so lets move on.
Is your favourite slate general purpose? Yes ok How about your phone? Either of those devices a good size for you? – yep ok lets keep going. Do they have capabilities and a price that make it useful to an individual? Sure thing, that’s why they sell by the millions. Congratulations your phone is a PC. This is a trend called consumerisation and it’s seeing a resurgence in the market unlike tech has ever seen. Some think it’s new, I think it just holds new opportunities.
A lot of people are wedded to the idea that the PC is a grey box ‘o bits on your desk with a keyboard and a mouse. It’s not. It’s a human enablement device something that lets you do something in a general purpose way, an affordable price and in the right size (read that as form factor). That form factor is going to change because technology changes as will the price, as will what people want to do with it. So the premise for my believing that we are not in the post PC era is that what we are in the post grey box era and people saw an object and believed it to be a definition.
Just as people saw tin cans as defining a can. But today they aren’t often made from tin, they’re made from cool new stuff like aluminium and are easier to use with ring pulls, prettier with labels printed directly to the can and I’m sure some kind of special extrusion ingenuity that makes them cool to people who love cans. Most of us take cans for granted, as we do with PCs and that’s a good thing.
We’re on the precipice of the most dramatic change in PCs since they were invented, they’ve already started to get touchy with some amazing innovation and competition in the market has played no small part in that but the other motivator has been people. Far more important. People want to do different things today, they want to be able to have the same or better facilities at work as they do at home. PCs that are as attractive, as usable, as cool. They want PCs like those in The Collection (actually I don’t think they’re all cool but that’s just my definition of cool) however if Samsung would like me to sport the Series 9 I’d love to, thanks.
So divorce yourself from the idea that PCs are grey boxes.
I’d like you to take this definition from thefreedictionary.com which is again funny but it does provide an alternative. An alternative reality where we only have single function devices, imagine carrying a phone, an address book, a calendar, a notice board, a wall everything your device de-jour does today seems like an odd thing to do when you have a little PC in your pocket that you commonly call a smart phone. Single function devices have a place – I love my eReader – but a single function world is a giant step back. Oh yeah that definition goes on to mention Java and talks about code portability ask anyone – it’s not that simple.
Lets take a moment to celebrate being general purpose…imagine if everything only did one thing it would be hard to release potential, hard to innovate hard to do cool stuff. Life would suck. Life would be mundane. Life would be dictated. No thanks!
So where is this all going. We’re going natural user interfaces baby. They sound cool but we’re only breaking the surface, touch whilst it’s the next thing today is probably not going to be all that cool when you can WILL your things to do something. And you know what, the PC will be there doing that for you this multifunction, affordable, capable device in the right form factor for the job will be with you. Personal Computers – THE most personal computers even – won’t need keyboards or mice or touch or gesture control or whatever we invent next.
This isn’t just about the device though because the original premise was that cloud enables post PC and it doesn’t. Some of the heavy lifting can be done by the cloud but some can’t, there are times when you’ll want to be selfish. Times when you need to guarantee gargantuan gaming performance times when you want to max out your own processors to crunch some numbers and that’s going to stay with us for a while too. Until we reach a world of ubiquity of quality and speed of interconnection between devices – note though that today’s quality and speed is not tomorrows. We might be chasing our tail here.
Wow tech is cool – we’re going to do amazing things that we don’t know yet. The limiting form factor is you and I.
So how do you start the trend off, embrace it, use it to make or save money for you. Allow consumerisation into your organisation, know what you’re doing and control risk but don’t gate keep access that will just annoy people and 100 people tend to be smarter than 1. Guide don’t gate keep. Your people will be able to do more….with a PC.