|by Lindsey Vereen
My friend Lloyd, a retired physician in South Carolina, wants to be able to surf the Web, do word processing, and perhaps send and receive e-mail, and he’s asked me for advice on what kind of product he can buy that will let him do these things. Sometimes when the computationally innocent ask for my opinion on such matters, I steer them toward Macs.
Not that I’m a big fan of Macintoshes. My first encounter with a Mac occurred on an early version of those numbingly slow, self-contained units with a nine-inch monochrome monitor. Most days I was tempted to push that little box off the top of my desk. Apple has since erased the frustration experienced by users of those systems. Now Steve Jobs is offering the world a product he calls a supercomputer Mac, and Apple seems to be back in finer-than-ever fettle.
Notwithstanding my cool relationship with Macs, they seem a better solution for the uninitiated than a PC. Trouble is, Lloyd is adamantly opposed to getting any computer, and he’s looking for an alternative. I find it pretty amazing that the PC has penetrated into 45% of American homes, and I think it’s because of people like the good doctor who are looking for capabilities that today can only be found on desktop computers. But like Lloyd, they don’t really want a computer.
Maybe better alternatives are on their way. Based on the buzz at the recent Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, we have apparently entered the post-PC era. If that kind of transition is in fact happening or likely to happen, it represents a discontinuity in the industry. Discontinuities mean big changes and new market leaders. Market leaders before the transition often fail to thrive afterwards. Remember DEC?
While Apple’s recent resurgence is entertaining to follow, it’s a little late to be waging a battle for the desktop since that battle has long since been fought and won. Isn’t it time for Steve Jobs to do what I yearned to do and push the Mac off the desktop? Even Amiga has apparently abandoned its quest for the desktop. It’s next incarnation is reportedly as an Internet appliance, but of course that could change again — more than once — by the time you read this. Granted, the small niche that Apple has carved out represents a whole lot more money than a large chunk of anything else right now, but that will change in the post-PC era.
While we may not have figured out exactly what kind of products the post-PC era will produce, the industry pundits do seem convinced that the market will be big. All it will take is for creative minds to find the right combination of features and price that will capture the imagination and pocketbooks of consumers.
Even though Apple has had a chastening experience with the Newton, the PDA that could almost read handwriting, I have to assume the company has some interesting embedded gizmos in the lab. But it will take a lot of luck for Apple, or even Microsoft or Intel, to be the big winners when the dust settles after the transition.