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The Post-PC Era is an old idea

by alec on May 18, 2011

They say that fashion goes in cycles.  Don’t get rid of your old clothes — just hang them in your closet and ten or twenty years later you’ll be able to put them on again (assuming they still fit!), and be fashionable once more.

Steve Job’s pronouncements on the Post PC era have generated one of these cyclical fashion boomerangs in the tech industry.  As Forrester Research’s Sarah Rotman Epps says:

the “post-PC” concept is more than a decade old: In 1999, MIT research scientist David Clark gave a talk called “The Post PC Internet,” describing a future point at which objects like wristwatches and eyeglasses would be Internet-connected computing devices.

The rhetoric has changed, ten years on, but the concepts are basically the same.  I have an ethernet tap on my kitchen counter, for example, installed in 2001 in order to service the tablet device that would eventually sit there.

Ten years ago, Microsoft tried to counter “Post-PC” by talking about “PC-Plus”, the fear being that Post-PC implied the end of the PC.  Today nobody really believes that.  Ms. Rotman Epps envisions a world where PCs and non-PC devices interact via the medium of the internet, and even Microsoft themselves are apparently working on ARM versions of the next generation Windows OS targeted at non-PC devices.

The biggest difference this time around is simply time.  Ten years ago the devices we envisioned – networked household appliances, tablet devices, facial recognition systems, and so on – were ideas in a lab.  For example, to model a media networked home, we at Microsoft put a $50,000 video switcher into a $1 million lab space, and embedded massive rear projection screens into the walls with custom software to bring internet, movies, and television to these screens in order to simulate the future home.  It looked a lot like what I have in my house today, but I spent a fraction to do it. Back then, it was simply impossible due to costs and manufacturing complexity to bring these ideas to market, but today any consumer can have them thanks to Moore’s Law.

So welcome to the Post PC era, and all of the interactivity, richness, and connectivity that it implies.  Some of us have been waiting a very long time for this day.

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