Newsweek Drinks the Kool-Aid

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Technology bloggers and their tech media compatriots are infamous for  proclaiming things revolutionary at seemingly random intervals. It seems that every new product or startup company signals the end of computing or networking or technology as we know it. These proclamations are based on nothing more than hype or taking one possible outcome way out past its logical conclusion.

For the most part, this desire to anoint everything as the next big thing is harmless since most readers of such technology focused writers and websites are techies themselves who have their own very established beliefs about the future direction of various technologies.

This time, one of the writers over at Newsweek decided to get in on the action. He proclaims that the personal computer is dead and that the obvious, nay inevitable, future is mobile devices. Specifically, the future is a two-way battle over mobile technology with Google on one side and Apple on the other.

The author does generously offer that the personal computer will not disapear overnight, which is probably a good thing since the iPad can’t do anything for business yet, and iPhones require you to use an inferior wireless carrier in order to buy one.

This is all based on…well, that’s where everything falls apart.

In the article itself, the author cites a bizarre string of “evidence” that things are changing.

First, he points out that Apple sells way more iPhones and iPads and so on than it does computers. This is very true. However, that says more about Apple’s ability to sell computers than it says about the future of computing.

Second, he cites some very big sales numbers as further proof about how mobile computing is growing faster than traditional computing. Again, this is true. However, what people keep forgetting is that computers have been around for a very long time and are fully implemented in almost every business and household in the country. Put another way, 20% growth in personal computing is larger than 50% growth in mobile computing devices.

On the other hand, there are TONS of people who do not own smartphones or other mobile computing devices. That makes growth a lot easier. While a computer maker has to wait for a customer who already has a computer decide that they need to buy a new one, the mobile computing computing can count on both sales from current users who are upgrading as well as new consumers who have never owned that type of device before.

Most laughable of all is the way the author proclaims that one day we will all use very powerful mobile computing devices instead of paying big bucks for a computer with tons of storage space.

Just what existing device is he referring to?

Certainly not the iPad which costs as much as a mid-tier computer. He can’t seriously mean the new iPhone which only costs less than a computer if the purchase is subsidized by AT&T in exchange for locking into a contract.

Where is this low-priced powerful computing device, then?

It doesn’t exist! Of course, mobile computing devices will get cheaper and more powerful in the future, which could be a pretty good argument if the same thing were not true about more traditional computers as well.

Not that it really matters, because even if one concedes that these cheap mobile devices will let everyone, “…manage photos and videos and music that will be stored online, somewhere out on the Internet cloud,” how can that possibily spell a revolutionary transformation?

Is that really all the author thinks that computers do?

While I agree that it is super neat-o that you can update your Twitter status and send cat videos to your friends on your iPad, out here in the real world, people use computers for other things like processing data, contact management, product design, engineering, and so on.  Will those functions be taken over by inexpensive mobile appliances?

Devices like the iPad and iPhone are not radical departures from how computers are used. What they really represent is the next step in the world of personal entertainment electronics.

Let’s see if I can make this clear enough for the article writer to follow.

Start with the Sony Walkman which makes personal entertainment (music) portable.

Now, implement the standard improvements that eventually come to virtually all technology:

  1. Make it smaller or bigger (depending upon device).
  2. Make it more powerful.
  3. Make it cheaper.
  4. Add new feature.
  5. Improve that feature.
  6. Make it cheaper.
  7. Add new feature.
  8. Make it cheaper.
  9. Repeat

In this case:

The Sony Walkman made smaller and more powerful (digital with bigger storage) = iPod.

iPods get cheaper.

Add color screen.

Cheaper.

Add video to iPods (and more storage) = 5th generation iPods.

Add networking connectivity = iPod Touch.

Add phone functionality = iPhone.

Add bigger screen = iPad.

Where is the revolution again?

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