Over the years I’ve seen a surprising number of companies make claims that the computer is either nearing the end of its run or will no longer be necessary because of some other new device.
Invariably this comment comes from a company that thinks it’s going to change the world with its latest product offering. Sony is the most recent entrant into this fantasy world. Phil Harrison, one of the top executives responsible for the new PlayStation 3, said in a recent interview, “We believe that the PS3 will be the place where our users play games, watch films, browse the Web, and use other computer functions. The PlayStation 3 is a computer. We do not need the PC.”
While Phil may not need the PC, the rest of us, as usual, do. This sort of misguided thinking has always suggested to me that the parties responsible for it have lost their way on whatever path they’re currently on.
How many times do we have to tell these people that the computer is a device most people do not associate with their TV’s? Most people keep their computer in its own environment away from the TV. Most people have their computers set up in a way similar to an office environment. They have it on a desk or workstation next to a standard chair. It would be incredibly uncomfortable to try and do many of the things you do in this environment while sitting on the couch in your family room. That environment just isn’t conducive to doing your taxes, working on your resume or even browsing the web. If browsing the web from the TV is such a great concept how do these people explain the lack of success of efforts like WebTV (now MSN TV)? Don’t forget that this is owned by Microsoft and they know a thing or two about both the family room environment and the PC and they haven’t been able to convince most people that browsing on the TV is the way to go.
Frankly, when I’m on my PC I often want to be out of the family paradigm. The computer is very much a solitary device. I often use it in much the same way my wife handles her reading. She doesn’t pick up a book and head to the family room. She takes the book to a solitary part of the house and reads, quietly and alone.
Phil Harrison seems to believe that the fact that the PS3 has a powerful processor and runs a computer-like operating system makes the PS3 a good candidate to replace the computer. That’s just not sound thinking. I could add those things to my lawnmower, my refrigerator or my car and none of them are going to replace the computer. They might help improve the job those devices were designed for, but that’s it. Sure there could be some limited cross-over features but that’s all.
Once is a while a device breaks through and becomes mainstream. Consider, for example, cameras built into cell phones. Initially many of us thought, “Why would I want my cell phone to be a camera?” However, it’s pretty clear to see how this leap happened. Cell phones are now like your keys. Many people take their cell phones with them everywhere they go and that, of course, includes all the places you’d want to take a camera. It’s the same reason that playing music on your cell phone makes sense (and also why I think iPod’s are a fad whose functionality will ultimately be absorbed by another device). However, two things are clear. First, cell phone cameras may be popular but they still haven’t pushed the stand-alone camera market aside. Second, simply adding functionality to a device doesn’t make it viable. I can add a camera to my toaster but that isn’t going to make it convenient to use as a camera.
The computer isn’t going anywhere. It’s time these guys figure this out and do a better job of having these devices take over functions that are best suited for the environment they’re really supposed to excel in.