By Jason Snell
December 22, 2016 9:44 AM PT
Cars and Trucks and Mac SUVs
Warning: This story has not been updated in several years and may contain out-of-date information.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this whole car/truck metaphor that we use when trying to talk about the rise and fall of the personal computer. It led me to dig up the original Steve Jobs video and think about how Apple sees the Mac today. So I made a video.
(Videos are things, right?)
When people talk about if tablets will replace computers, it’s only a matter of time before we start talking about cars and trucks. It’s a reference to a metaphor Steve Jobs used in 2010 to discuss the “post-PC world.”
The personal computer was once the only device we could use to access the internet, so everybody needed to have a computer to do that because the Internet is awesome.
But now phones and tablets let us do that better than the PC, so the only people using computers will be people who need to use them, because they’re the best tool for that particular job.
So where do the cars and trucks come in? It’s worth going back to what Steve Jobs originally said, rather than just the idea of what he said.
When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks, cause that’s what you needed on the farm. But as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, and America started to move into those urban and then suburban centers, cars got more popular and innovations like automatic transmission and power steering and things you didn’t care about in a truck as much started to become paramount in cars.
This isn’t really true. In 1908 Ford began selling the Model T, the first truly mass-market vehicle, and it was a car.
Still, Jobs does make a fantastic point here about how consumer demand shapes product design. Through the years, car designs have evolved to make things much more comfortable for the people who buy them. Can you believe cars didn’t used to have cup holders?
PCs are gonna be like trucks. They’re still gonna be around, they’re still gonna have a lot of value, but they’re going to be used by 1 out of x people.
In other words, PCs will be a niche technology, while the majority of people will gravitate to smartphones and tablets.
And this transformation is going to make some people uneasy. People from the PC world, like you and me. It’s going to make us uneasy. Because the PC’s taken us a long ways. It’s brilliant. And we like to talk about the post-PC era, but when it really starts to happen, I think it’s uncomfortable for a lot of people. Because it’s change, and a lot of vested interests are going to change, and it’s gonna be different.
This is perhaps the most interesting part of what Jobs said. Because it’s about how those of us who were raised in the PC era will become increasingly uncomfortable with the changes ahead of us.
When Steve Jobs says “Vested interests are going to change” it makes me think of the concerns professional Mac users have had since the new MacBook Pros came out. It was once Apple’s vested interest to cater to the professional computer market. Is it now?
If tablets are cars and Macs are trucks, how can you explain Apple’s design of the 2015 MacBook and 2016 MacBook Pro? These are optimized for lightness and thinness, not processor power. A MacBook Pro that trades more memory and a more powerful graphics card for thinness and lightness sounds an awful lot like a car to me.
So maybe it’s a mistake to think that Macs are trucks. Maybe today’s Macs are more like SUVs: they’re more expensive and better appointed cars. It’s a category that’s just as popular as the car, and way more popular than the pickup truck.
If Apple decides the largest market for Macs is the SUV market—people who want to buy a computer, but don’t really need to be Professional Grade—Where does that leave the harder-core pro users?
If you’ve been driving a Ford all your life, will you switch to a Chevy? Or will you drive a Ford SUV and learn to live without the truck bed?
So I think that we’re embarked on that. Is it the iPad? Who knows? Will it be next year or five years from now or seven years from now, who knows? But I think we’re headed in that direction.
It’s six years later, now. We’re headed in some direction. PC sales are down. But tablet sales are down too. The smartphone towers over everything. So maybe the smartphone’s the car — The general-purpose device that everyone loves.
It’s hard to imagine a future where everyone uses a smartphone to get all their work done. Even if tomorrow’s smartphones have all the computing power of today’s PCs, those smartphone screens are awfully small.
But what’s the truck of tomorrow? Will it be the personal computer, as Steve Jobs suggested? Will it be the tablet? Will it be some merged combination of the two?
And if you’re someone who loves Apple products, will Apple still be in the business of making trucks? Or will it be too focused on the business of making cars for the masses?
Just as Steve Jobs suggested back in 2010, it’s change. And it’s gonna be different. And it’s gonna make all of us uneasy.
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