Welcome to the Post-PC Era

PUBLISHED ON APR 26, 2010 — TECH

In 10 years when we look back at the shape of the computer industry, 2010 will mark the clear start of the post-PC era.

The PC as the primary computing device is dead. They won’t go away, but they won’t be the main way that the average person interacts with data any more. It has taken a surprisingly long time to get here.

Everyone who is remotely serious about computers knows the silly prognostications that have been knocked down thoroughly in the past. The president of IBM who is famously mis-quoted as saying that he thought there was a world market for maybe five computers. Or the other famous mis–quote from Bill Gates that 640k ought to be enough for anybody. Well here is another silly prognostication; in 10 years you will no longer care about RAM, storage capacity, CPU Speed or resolution.

The easiest way to predict the future is to look at current trends and extend them. Cloud computing, new means of Human-Computer Interaction, the continuation of a “Moore’s Law” in everything hardware related.

People don’t want a computer. They want the ability to find, access, manipulate and share information. The means of doing so is completely secondary. The current way of looking at a computer, as a discrete device with applications and physical attributes that are important to the context of what it can do, is ending quickly.

The average person definitely doesn’t want to deal with upgrades and updates,synchronizing and backing up. They don’t want to manage files. They don’t want to manage multiple logins. And they really couldn’t care less what the operating system is.

This is where the Linux fanboys, Microsoft, HP and Lenovo have been getting it wrong, some slightly and some comically; the users don’t care about you or your feature list, your free-ness, your compatibility, it is all already a commodity. What they care about is the experience, what it feels like when they use it and how frictionless it is. You need to work hard to get out of their way and make it just work, dammit. The companies that get this right win.

Apple has opened a door but by no means do they have an insurmountable lead. There is a lot of room for improvement, and it is likely Apple will make classic entrenched competitor mistakes and fail to innovate in key areas because the changes threaten established cash cows. Compare your experience with an iPhone or iPad today to what it should be. You should pick one up off the store shelf, take it to a café and power it on. Log in with your universal (OAuth?) account and indicate which payment method you want to use for your wireless network access and application purchases. Your data is all there in the cloud the moment you identify yourself, your device is connected the moment you complete payment, and you’re done. No iTunes setup, no sync, no backups, no downloads for music and videos, no emailing around documents.

We’ll be there very soon, and it may not be Apple who gets us there.

For the same reason many serious gear-heads have tired of tinkering with their Linux boxes and bought a Mac, most people will start to switch away from laptops and desktop machines. It won’t happen overnight, there is still too much you must have a ‘larger’ device for. But quickly, in only the next few years, as existing gear needs to be replaced, the go-to device will be something ‘simple’ that lets them get at their data in the cloud. It is as inevitable as gravity.

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