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[personal profile] kickaha
How many times have you heard (at least in your head), an SUV owner saying that they just don't get little SmartCars, Priuses, and so on? "You can't haul anything in them." "They do so *little*!" "Sure, the mileage may be great, but I need room for four kids, not four grocery bags." "They're just not *fun* to drive..."

And often times, the (stereotypical green-oriented) geek's response is "But not everyone needs an SUV!"





Think about it - the modern PC is a massively overpowered piece of kit for the average consumer. I don't mean the average geek, I mean the average *consumer*. Nearly everything we love and adore about a general purpose computer, is a painpoint for the average consumer.

Browsable filesystem: they lose their files.
Modularity and customizability: they have no clue where to start with the complexity.
RAW POWAH: for what, typing in Word?
Multi-tasking + WIMP UI: they can't tell what app they're in.

Sure, some of them will adapt, but a lot won't. Think about how many times you've had a tech support call from a relative, usually older, who is utterly lost. "Click on the Start Menu... no, it's in the lower left... yes, I know it says Start and you want to change printer settings, but... no, I don't know why it doesn't say Printer in that case... yes, just click on it... with the left button... no, there's no button on the keyboard marked 'Left', I meant the left mouse button... yeah... right. No, *left*! *headdesk*"



Alan Kay started the original Mac project with a very different vision than what finally came out: a computing appliance. It would do a single thing at a time, it would do it well, and it would be simple to use. Data would be owned by the app, sharing of data would be done through OS-handled requests using what we now refer to as metadata, and above all, it would be for the average consumer.

The average consumer wasn't ready for that, and the PC world is geek-centric, not interested in making such a device that doesn't cater to their needs. Oil, water. We may finally be getting back around to that though. The average consumer doesn't care about multi-tasking, if it means they get lost in the UI. They don't care about browsable flexible filesystems with redundancy, journaling, and distributed storage, if it means they can't find their data. They not only don't care about these things, they dread them. Frankly, I can't blame them. Think about the rather byzantine organizational systems we go through to keep our data where we can find it again. Just glancing at my own filesystem, my personal account file hierarchy is 14 folders deep at the deepest, and the widest directory has 37 folders in it. Think about the scale of that, and each folder name is a metadata tag, often redundant *and* duplicative. (Yes, that was on purpose.) Now we have tagging and searching tools such as Spotlight on the Mac and Google Desktop on Windows... and these are highly popular tools with even professional computer jockeys. Why? Because they remove some of our cognitive load. And we're trained in our lives to deal with massive cognitive loads... imagine what it must be like for the average consumer facing this world of complexity. Now, however, we are on the cusp of having cheap, portable, always-connected computing power that can be used not for eyecandy and pixel pushing, but to make the user's life easier through data organization that they don't have to do.



Until now, the PC world has been differentiated by the cost of the hardware, which is a measure of the raw power possible. Pay more, get more power... but you have exactly the same *experience* on each machine, just slower or faster. Windows and the Mac are, really, just two variants on the same theme: a geek machine. Consumers recognize they don't need a pro-level machine, so they buy something cheap... but it's just a *badly hobbled* pro machine, not a consumer machine. It's like recognizing you don't need an SUV, but your only option is an SUV body with 1.2L 4 cylinder engine. Kind of stupid.

Think about the tablet market up until now. Was it a new device? No. It's been a full computer crammed into a tablet. Same SUV, but now with spoilers, and sold as a race car. Urk.



All of which brings us to an interesting corollary: I predict that in this decade, we'll see a split in computing, on the same scale as the microcomputer/mainframe schism of the 70s. On the one hand, we will have the smartphones and iPad-esque tablets, aimed at the average consumer. They will do simple things, they will do them well, they will be extremely well connected into the internet, they will be geared for what a consumer does: consume. Lots and lots of media. Almost as a side-effect, they will be an organizational device, but their main purposes will be consumption of media, and communication. These devices will be (and are being) decried by the geek masses as underpowered, locked down, and useless toys.

And they will be everywhere. By the millions. They may be iPads, they may be from another company, but the dam is cracked, and in another year or so, it'll burst.

On the other hand, we'll have a more traditional PC: it will be geared for content producers, developers, and us geeks that need (or think we need) the power and flexibility. Prosumer vs. consumer... but just remember, there are a hell of a lot more of them than there are of us.



If you don't get the iPad, if you don't see the point, if you can't see how it's a useful device... that's okay. You're not the target market. You're a contractor with plywood to haul, who doesn't get the SmartCar. It doesn't fit your needs, at *all*. Or mine, really. I don't think I'll buy an iPad for myself, except maybe as a curiosity to play with... but you can bet I'm getting one for my Dad. And my grandmother. And probably my great aunt.

What, you don't want to cut down on tech support calls too?
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July 2010

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