My co-founder Mark Heinrich and I have long wondered why consumers buy personal computers. It’s not like they are particularly well designed or easy to use. They are complicated to configure, hard to maintain and a source of great frustration. As products, they are poorly designed and remind me of the early automobiles, which required the owner to know how to perform rudimentary repairs to be sufficiently reliable. In 2 minutes, my child could render a personal computer unbootable by removing important system files. Try doing that to an iPhone. Not possible, it is an appliance.
The reason consumers buy personal computers is that there was nothing better. All devices intended to replace the personal computer, up to now, have been underpowered toys. What self-respecting geek wants a webtv as their computer at home?
Enter the iPhone, and by the iPhone, I don’t really mean the current device phone, but instead the touch based platform and embedded OS that runs on the iPhone. In that, we can see the seeds of the future. A 12 inch tablet-sized version of the iPhone would be a fantastic family computer.
I keep an on old laptop as a kitchen counter. We use it to read mail, keep a calendar, shop, lookup movies, resolve disputes (who was in that movie? ask IMDB) and surf the web. A 12 inch tablet iPhone would be much better for that. We would primarily use it as touch computer, but if we wanted to send a long email, we could use a bluetooth keyboard. And if we wanted to relax on the couch, we would pick it up and use it in our lap.
General purpose computers will continue to be sold of course. But they are most appropriate as engineering workstations, or the power tools of knowledge workers, not for mainstream computing. It was only a matter of time before something replaced the personal computer, and that something is going to be the tablet iPhone (yet to be released).
Will Apple take it all here? I don’t know. Apple has traditionally catered to the high end of the market. My guess is that Microsoft will do a similar device based on their surface computing efforts that will hit a lower price points and might become the mainstream alternative.
To me, it is remarkable that at the exact moment developers have given up writing downloadable apps for Macs and PCs, preferring instead to target the browser, that those same developers are clamoring to write for the iPhone. This proves in my mind that it was never about the web being a superior programming platform. Instead, it was about the web browser creating a walled garden within your frustrating computer that was well behaved and predictable.
And so the pendulum swings back. Personally, I am tremendously excited because I have long thought that while I may need/want a full featured Mac with the ability to bring up a process list and run “ifconfig” on the ethernet interface, my mom does not.
In the iPhone we are witnessing the launch of a new consumer computing platform that will be extended by developers all over the world. Let the fun begin.