Over the past few years our firm has done a great deal of research and thinking around this new category of computers called Netbooks. Netbooks are, we believe, the beginning of a larger trend around classes of computing devices that have enough processing power to do a few specific things well, but not enough to do everything that a full- blown computing device is capable of—, HD video editing for example. These devices are quite capable of going online, checking email, and creating word documents and, spreadsheets, etc. Quite frankly, they are good at doing what most folks do the majority of the time with their computers. A point in which is making many in the computing industry very uncomfortable.
The personal computer industry has with every passing year been introducing new computers packing the latest and greatest processors in order to empower consumers to do new and wonderful things, things that take a lot of processing power. The only problem is that with every passing year, the majority of consumers do less and less of the things that require a lot of processing power. In fact the world is waking up to the fact that we have had enough processing power and now the latest and greatest computers have more then enough. Which should beg the question “why should consumers be paying high prices every year to buy machines that pack a lot more then than they really need for their day day-to to-day computing needs?” All of this leads us to why Netbooks have become so interesting and perhaps a truly disruptive philosophy rather then than merely a new technology.
I say disruptive philosophy because quite simply the emergence and success of Netbooks has caused a lot of us that observe and analyze the computing industry as well as those who make computers to begin to rethink the way in which we make computers in the future. Primarily because we are starting to see a great deal of commoditization in the computing sector both with hardware and semiconductors in a way we haven’t seen before. Think about this, : computers are just entering the market, in form factors and processing power that once cost between $1500 and $2000, for under $700. It has all of a sudden become possible to sell very powerful small devices that once demanded premium prices for mainstream prices. The fact that these computers selling well below the $1000 price point are running processors that aren’t the latest and greatest is moot when we remember that on average consumers have been paying for more processing power then they need and they are beginning to realize it.
Now I believe we have two realities to choose from. We can either choose the reality where consumers are content with what they are doing and the limited amount of processing power they use. This reality has us focusing on meeting consumers where they are at in their computing needs. Or we can choose the reality that we need to develop new and great computing experiences where software utilizes and takes advantage of great hardware, or at least it should.
Apple brings this philosophy to bear with every product that goes out the door. That is why Apple never abandoned its operating system. That is why Apple makes very specific hardware decisions. That is why Apple is eating the lunch of many in the personal computing sector, all I might add by not being the least expensive thing on the market. It is for those and a host of other reason’s that Apple does not compete on price.
I believe the software industry needs to learn a valuable lesson from video game software developers. Video game software developers strive to push the envelope with their software anticipating each new GPU(Graphical Processing Unit) released by either NVIDIA or AMD ATI. Where right now the best Intel CPU’s have 4 cores on one silicon dye die the latest and greatest GPU’s can have between 16 and 28 cores on a single silicon dyedie. The video game software industry is one that strives to make the most of every new generation GPU and the consumers of this software are in the constant pursuit of the best hardware to take advantage of the great software being developed.
I use the gaming sector simply as an analogy to point out what is missing in the general consumer software sector. I rarely if ever hear of software developers anticipating the next CPU release from Intel or AMD so that they can take advantage of all the new processing power in their upcoming software release. When I ask PC companies as well as Intel and AMD why I need more cores in my next computer, their answer almost always has something to do with high definition video. Yet computers on the market running previous generation CPU’s play high definition video perfectly fine. So again my question is why do I need more processing power?
I don’t knowcan only guess at the answer. My imagination hasn’t been sparked outside of the video game industry as to what is possible with more processing power. Furthermore the video game industry takes advantage of GPU’s more then CPU’s, which is a trend we will here hear more and more about.
The challenge before us is to create software and computing experiences that takes consumers forward into the computing future instead of leaving them content where they are.