Twitter! Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!
Last night I saw this article, which basically says the one day soon computers won't present the user with the ability to manipulate "files" anymore.
Suddenly, I had stuff to say. But I've been using Twitter, which limits me to 140 characters. So, I Tweeted this:
We're heading toward two classes of computers: one for people like me, and one for people like my Mom.
(And BTW, Mom, usually when I mention you on the Internet, I'm not really talking about you. You're a metaphor for "normal people", those who use computers to get things done, as opposed to geeks like me, who use computers just because they are shiny.)
Anyway, I thought the tweet would be enough. It wasn't.
In the beginning, we were the only ones here. Normal people didn't use computers at all. Only the geeks used computers, and we certainly weren't using them to get anything done.
I remember my Mom saying that she would never use a computer. (Mom, this one is actually you.) And I certainly can't blame her for thinking that at the time. She had no reason to see computers as a way of getting things done. All she knew is that I would periodically run into the family room to announce to my parents that I had just shaved three more instructions out of the main loop so now my graphics move faster. And Mom just wanted me to at least stack my Byte magazines in the corner so she could get the vacuum cleaner through.
Fast forward to today. Computers, by and large, are still designed for geeks. This is why we all buy T-shirts that say "No, I will not fix your computer". The genius of the iPad is that it cannot get things like viruses. It is a closed platform. You can't put apps on it. You can't write and distribute software for it without Apple's permission. This is why geeks hate it and normal people will love it.
Your Mom wants a computer she doesn't have to ask you to fix. She is willing to trade power and flexibility to get simplicity. The iPad is another major step.
I find this interesting because it raises all kinds of questions:
- The industry is finally ready to sell things that make
geeks feel frustrated instead of things that make normal people feel
helpless. What does this mean for geeks and our role in society?
- How is the terminology going to shake out? Surely we need
two different names? Things that geeks use should probably still be
called "computers". What should we call the class of devices that help
normal people manage their Amazon wish list?
- We geeks will become the minority market niche. How will
this affect the pricing of things? Will there be sufficient economies of
scale to sell computers to geeks at margins that are tolerable to both
buyer and seller?
- What kinds of computers/devices will get caught in the
middle and suddenly have no place in the world?
- What classes of users are going to be special cases? I'm talking about folks that are not geeks but that for some other reason cannot accept the power/simplicity tradeoff of devices designed for normal people.
This is a major wave of change. I don't know the answers to these questions. The only thing that seems clear to me is that Microsoft will miss this wave just like they missed the last one.