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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The "no OS" device as a disruptive innovation

I’ve been writing here for years about what I call the “no OS” device, which has some resemblance to a PC but doesn’t require its user to deal with an “operating system” like Windows or Mac OS or Linux. Of course the device is still managed by an operating system like iOS or Android, but it hides all the complicated stuff (like “files”) and is treated as more “consumer electronics” than “computer”. While there can be all kinds of “no OS” devices, such as Google's Chromebooks, at the moment the two popular types are smartphones and tablets (which interestingly are pretty much the same thing except for size and a cellphone feature). I don’t consider a tablet that runs iOS or Android to be a PC: if it can run smartphone apps but not PC apps, isn’t it more useful to classify it with smartphones than with PCs?

These days there’s a lot of discussion about tablets vs. PCs, and what Steve Jobs really meant by “the post-PC era”. As you may remember if you’ve read this blog in the past, I believe that the PC era was a case of temporary insanity which is now being cured: now that network connectivity is widespread, applications and their data once again largely reside centrally in proper datacentres, not on people’s desks or laps. So people no longer need PCs except to use things like Microsoft Office that are now in (slow) decline thanks to the likes of Google Apps and Office Web Apps and non-"office" web apps like list makers. Now young people and the non-rich (i.e. most of the world's population) who start out with a phone or tablet can in future upgrade to more sophisticated phones and tablets, never needing to buy a PC that would be unnecessary, expensive, and less convenient than a tablet. Those phones and tablets are getting more and more capable and the apps are appearing for them that do word processing, spreadsheets, image editing, remote access to development servers, and other things that used to require a PC, so over time the percentage of people who have a PC will decline dramatically.

To me this is a classic case of a disruptive innovation, as Clayton Christensen defined it. A cheaper and less capable alternative appears to something sophisticated, and gets laughed at by the cognoscenti – who end up scrambling to defend against the newcomer who not only signs up people who couldn’t afford the original but also those who find that as the new innovation improves it can now handle their needs. The defenders of the original faith may keep saying the same things forever – but only to each other; the rest of the world has moved on. I still have a fondness for mainframes, but I don’t advocate that anyone start using one! And I'm now like the GenY people I hang with in that I no longer wear a watch or carry a pen; I don't miss them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Windows 8 is partly taking us in the same direction..

Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 4:39:00 a.m. EDT  
Blogger Rohan Jayasekera said...

Thanks for your comment. Yes it is, and I can't wait to find out how important the "partly" will be.

(I continued writing more about this, but it became long enough to deserve its own post. So please see the next post, which should appear within half an hour.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 12:24:00 p.m. EDT  

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