Daily Archives:November 5th, 2007

The King is Dead?

It had to happen eventually, but perhaps it really is beginning now… in Japan at least. PC sales are falling, according to this AP article.

I have always looked forward to living in a post-PC world.

The personal computer as we normally picture it has been such a successful model over the last quarter of a century that it has stifled quite a lot of innovation because many ideas, which might otherwise have exciting new tangible forms, are easier just to do on a PC. But as PCs become less of a focus, we should see new types of interaction becoming more common.

Mark Weiser’s famous article, “The Computer for the 21st Century“, talks about when core technologies become really powerful: when you don’t notice them any more.

The most frequently-cited example of this – highlighted by Don Norman – is the electric motor. There was a time when you could buy a ‘household electric motor’ and a range of accessories which would allow you to use it as a blender one minute, and a vacuum cleaner the next. But you know electric motors have become really significant as a technology when you start thinking of a washing machine as a washing machine, and a drill as a drill, rather than as incarnations of an electric motor.

Perhaps that’s what we’re starting to see in Japan.

Millions download music directly to their mobiles, and many more use their handsets for online shopping and to play games. Digital cameras connect directly to printers and high-definition TVs for viewing photos, bypassing PCs altogether. Movies now download straight to TVs.

More than 50 percent of Japanese send e-mail and browse the Internet from their mobile phones, according to a 2006 survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The same survey found that 30 percent of people with e-mail on their phones used PC-based e-mail less, including 4 percent who said they had stopped sending e-mails from PCs completely.

Now, to be fair, it’s not clear that people are actually doing without traditional PCs, they just aren’t upgrading their old ones very fast.

But this is a start. One thing that characterises appliances like washing machines, at least for most of us, is that you replace them when you have to. You don’t buy a new one so you can boast to your friends that this years’ model has a higher-wattage motor.

This is not the end of personal computing. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

What fun!

Thanks to Rex Hughes for the link.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser