"The future is a verb"

18 Sep 2011

Alan M. Webber, for The Christian Science Monitor, writing about “the Apple effect”. He explains the most important insight Apple has had about PCs:

The computer is a thing, but what people want is not a thing, but to do things.

Computers used to be for nerds. In those days, we stood around comparing megahertz and megabytes. We raced to overclock our machines while we argued about front-side buses and hardware-acceleration. We vehemently debated OpenGL versus DirectX. We didn’t just use computers, we knew them.

I imagine, in my more romantic moments, that this has been the genesis of most tools that have become commonplace.1

It is impossible to deny the importance of computers in our society. They are everywhere and most households have, at least, one. No longer are these devices limited to the nerds. And yet the dialogue around computers is still rooted in the same technospeak that it always has been.

Why is that still the case?

Your average user does not care about their hard drive RPM or the number of cores in their processor. They aren’t interested in the difference between solid state memory and traditional hard drives. The two most important aspects of a computer have become storage capacity and battery life.

Gone is the early era of the PC, where people bought computers to have computers. Those users still exist and are still buying computers, but they are the extreme minority. Now, everyone wants to have a computer. Not to have a computer, but to have access to this amazing new tool.

People want to send photos of their children to relatives around the world. People want to read the news–not just one side of it, but every side. People want to Skype; they want to Facebook; and they want to tweet.

Apple’s success has everything to do with recognizing these desires and playing into them. The very first text you see on the iPad homepage is, “Thinner. Lighter. Faster. FaceTime. Smart Covers. 10-hour battery.”. Nowhere in their advertising do they talk about processor speeds or megabytes of RAM, because those numbers don’t mean anything. That is the old way of thinking about personal computers.

This understanding is why the iPad is the only tablet on the market that consumers are interested in. It is Apple’s actualization of the concept that “technology alone is not enough”. And that is Apple’s most important insight.

  1. It is easy enough for me to picture young men and women, gathered around a gasoline powered motorwagen, talking for hours about the merits of four-wheeled automobiles over three-wheelers. It is a pleasant fantasy.