Moore’s law vs real world needs

Moore’s law basically says that affordable computer power doubles every two years. That means computer power grows exponentially rather than linear. Interesting, but what does that mean for the average user?

“Moore’s law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware. The quantity of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years. The trend has continued for more than half a century and is not expected to stop until 2015 or 2020 or later.” {from Wikipedia}

I’m no average user myself, but as an IT professional I know what most people use their computers for. Trust me, few people need the latest and greatest when it comes to sheer computing power. What people need is a fast internet connection. A five year old computer (if the software that it runs is in good shape) is plenty fast to check email, browse the internet and watch online video. One company that understands this really well is Apple. Apple has stopped running the race for fastest and most powerful computer a while ago. The last couple of years Apple products have often lagged behind their ‘PC’ competitors when it comes to processor speeds, amount of RAM and graphics processors. Notice the word products in that sentence. I’m including what Apple calls their ‘post-PC’ devices. The iPhone’s direct competitors have larger screens, higher resolutions and 4G connectivity. iPad competitors boast high-res displays, fast processors and gigabytes of RAM. Does Apple worry about this? No. Should Apple worry about this? I don’t think so. Since the first colorful iMac in 1998, Apple has been focusing on the experience instead of the spec sheet. Remember how the original iMac dropped the floppy drive? Some people were outraged, others didn’t care, but Apple went on to sell a lot of these quirky looking computers. A few years later the iPod was launched. And contrary to popular belief, it didn’t have the biggest storage capacity on the market. Other mp3 players had bigger hard disks and were often cheaper. But the iPod was easy to use and much more well known.

I could go on an on with these examples of how Apple for years has been shifting their focus, and ours along with it. But I want to get to my next point which is that over time this is going to change the entire IT industry. And that’s not just because of Apple and their experience focused philosophy. It’s also because of the internet. Apple’s success is tightly integrated with the rise of the internet. Let’s go back to my first example. Why was it OK to drop the floppy drive in the original iMac? Because people had started emailing documents to each other. What would the iPod be without an easy way to download music? And how useful is an iPhone without an internet connection? Most people associate the speed of their computer with the speed of the internet, because that’s what the computer is used for: to connect to the internet.

Our computers, and by computers I mean all computing devices, have become tools to use the internet with. Apple understands this and builds gorgeous machines that are easy to use and that largely disappear in favor of the content they present to us. That’s why there are hardly any buttons on the iPhone, it makes it easier to forget it’s there. We associate buttons with machines and machines are cold and impersonal. Apple needs you to love their products. It’s easier to love something beautiful and it’s easier to justify spending a lot of money on something you love.

Apple’s mantra is ‘it just works’, and while this is not always true, there is some truth in it. Especially when it comes to how their products are perceived. So once things work (most of the time) what will happen to the IT industry in general? I believe that while it will still be important to make sure things work, and continue to work, the industry will have to focus more and more on how things work. The user should feel in control even if that means that technically they have fewer options.

Working in the cloud limits our computer’s performance. Cloud storage is typically more limited than local hard disk space, and it definitely takes longer to download and upload the date. But in return we get a lot of flexibility. The future is not about spec sheets, it’s about experience, convenience and connectivity.


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