I’ve just started reading the draft of Matt Baxter-Reynold’s forthcoming book Death of the PC after I had a fascinating conversation with Matt earlier this week.
It’s got me thinking about how the “post-PC” devices that Matt talks about, whilst the next in line along the evolution of computing devices (in which mainframe begat mini begat micro begat PC begat tablet and smartphone), also represent the confluence of a number of different industries the like we’ve probably never seen before.
As well as the computing industry (both software and hardware, mostly from a tradition of engineering and Taylorist process and mechanisation – the first “computers” were people who were put out of work by the first counting machines), there are a number of other strands and traditions that make up the consumer experience of a tablet or smartphone:
For nearly as long as there have been computers, there have been computer games. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll have noticed how the latest release of the sex-n-violence series Grand Theft Auto seemed to get as much if not more media attention as any film that has been out this year. Gaming is big business, and the culture around the production of games is very different from other software development, and also from other media (never really yet being able to shake of the impression of games being “just for kids”, despite demographic and content evidence to the contrary).
The console games market appears to be in long-term decline, much in part to the way that casual gaming is shifting from PlayStation, XBox, PC or web browser to smart-device app. Thank you, Angry Birds…
Telegraph begat telephone begat fax (for a while) begat mobile phone… and the industry that underpins all of that, from Telcos to state regulators to manufacturers have all had an impact in the way in which tablet and smartphones have evolved. The telecoms industry have been providing real-time, person to person communications for 150 years or so more than FaceTime has been around. But it also now finds itself in existential crisis as valuable services sit within the OS rather than on the network.
In the PC-era we started to see media delivering through new channels, but it’s only really been in the smart device era that content has become easily consumable. The result? Rapid transformation and the near destruction of some industries.
The music industry was the first to be caught with its digital pants down. Caught in a model that monetised through the repackaging of old content in new forms (whether format shifts from vinyl to CD, or bundling through compilations and Best ofs..). MP3, and then MP3 players blew a hole in those traditional models, and the result is now an industry licking its wounds. Other media vowed not to allow the same to happen to them, but it’s difficult at this point to see whether eBooks will be the saviour or destructor of publishing, for example.
Broadcast media has a long tradition of technical innovation impacting on content, but linear content programming (a channel, broadcasting a series of programmes over the course of the day) has been consistent and non-linear forms and on-demand programming are challenging content makers ideas (although the next generation of content professionals may be less creatively constrained – my kids have no concept of linear programming, having been born into an iPlayer world…)
CD-ROMs and then the Internet heralded a new world of “digital” design and creative content. That legacy (part tech, part graphic design) feeds into a lot of the design paradigms we have for how we interact with technology devices today, rather than the maybe more conservative world of traditional IT user interface design. This world has tended to focus on the presentation rather than the “back-end” data.
Marketing and design
Whether the startling influence that Apple’s industrial design in Steve Jobs’ second tenure has had on an industry that traditionally made dull beige boxes, through to the wholesale “digital-isation” of the marketing industry in recent years (by which I mean that every agency now calls themselves digital, it seems), the world influenced by the history of advertising and brand communications also feeds into the world of smart devices.
App Stores, music stores, iTunes, Kindle… the ability to easily transact and purchase through the mechanisms in the heart of many of the devices we now use puts enormous pressure onto the traditional retailer sector. It’s no co-incidence that Tesco are rumoured to be launching their own tablet.
Whilst all of these worlds feed into the consumer devices that appear to be taking over the world, they are all also equally disrupted by what is happening in the world today dominated by Apple and Google’s Android. They make uneasy bed fellows for so many reasons.