Over the past few days many have blogged about the era of the PC, an era that started 30 years ago with the launch of IBM’s 5150 back in August 1981, and during which we have seen many advances.
Some speak of the PC as a product that is on its last legs, others see its extension in the new tablets, smart phones and the new gadgets which keep us hooked, while some others hanker after their first PC and remember it with nostalgia.
Those of us, who are in their thirties, saw the introduction of the PC when we were children and today we find our lives entwined with laptops, tablets, SMART phones and the like. Subsequent generations were born in a time where personal computers were already of age (if not the rage!) and thus do not have any recollection when the PC was still a rarity in homes.
From the point of view of a marketer, the personal computer has an interesting product lifecycle. It started out as a speciality product, something for the geeks, eventually becoming a machine with games, which was what started drawing mass appeal. With the advent of Microsoft in the scene, the PC became that as we know it today and with the increasing software and associated functionality it became a standard. Internet made everything practically a ‘click away’ and once again this lead to a bigger PC boom. More and more households became connected, and nowadays the PC in the home is a must.
Over the years the product has changed its technology, style, shape and dimensions. Starting out as huge towers or boxes, bulky monitors and a whole cobweb of wires for input/output devices, the personal computer is now sleeker, stronger and more stylish too.
Until a particular point in time, all computer-related devices came in a tonality of grey or beige (all in all, very masculine-oriented) and it is only in the last decade that we have seen devices in black and other colours. This kind of brings to mind when Ford’s model T car came out only in black – the exceptions in this case being that there were many different PC models from different manufacturers but only in one colour!
Likewise the web of wires that connected the various parts of the PC together has been partially dismantled as the world gets more and more wireless. Technology has changed too. As microchips became smaller and tinier, the CPU got sleeker. The storage capacity shot up with every new breakthrough in storage saving devices. It seems quite incredible that fifteen years ago, I installed Microsoft Office from a hefty number of 3.5 inch floppies, a process that was long and tedious and stressful especially when one of the floppies turned out to be corrupted!
In this story, some of the most noteworthy players in this product lifecycle so far included:
- IBM which launched the first PC (IBM 5150) 30 years ago;
- The first PC and console manufacturers like Atari and Commodore, Compaq, Hewlett Packard (there were many others but these are amongst the most notorious);
- Microsoft which was to dominate the Personal Computer world through Windows as an Operating System along with a plethora of other software foremost of which is Microsoft Office.
- Apple which started off as the innovative and different company with a smaller but more specific client base, and which has now become a very important player in this arena.
At the end of the day, whether one considers the PC lifecycle at the end or not is merely dependent on how he or she defines the PC.
The size, shape and functionality of the PC will change continuously but the relevant issues here are two:
- Personal – something which is inherently of a singular individual/s (not a business) and
- Computing – something technological that provides particular functionality whether that is saving, retrieving, capturing or manipulating data (not just pictures and words but also appointments, music and videos).
I have lost count of the number of PC and laptops that I have changed over the years. At this point in time I cannot refrain from considering my iPhone as my PC defacto. If I’m carrying it everywhere I go, how much more personal than that can computing get?