In 1981, IBM launched its personal computer. Although few recognized it as such at the time, least of all IBM's execs, it turned out to be a game-changer. The IBM PC killed off its predecessor, the mainframe computer, a market that was also dominated by IBM. Who knew?
Fast forward 29 years to Monday, April 5, 2010, when Steve Jobs said Apple's newly launched iPad is "going to be a game-changer." And you know what? Jobs is right; the iPad is going to be a game-changer. And I do believe that, in time, it will kill the PC. The stars are aligned, just as they were 29 years ago.
You see, by virtue of its multipurpose, desktop design, the PC did many things better than its predecessor. The first killer app was the spreadsheet. The second was word processing. Then came games, presentations, and email. We used to do all those things on mainframes, but the PC did them better.
Then came the Internet. Ironically, the most powerful killer app for the PC will prove to be a key to its demise. But we'll get to that in a minute.
Anyway, the PC became a standard platform for developers of third party applications, despite the fact that it was a proprietary platform. Sure, anybody could develop an application, but that didn't stop Microsoft from dominating the market for killer apps.
Sure, Apple had its own 'PC', the Macintosh, but it made strategic mistakes and lost the platform war to Wintel. But this time, it'll be different. Here's why:
As we all know, Apple's been on quite a tear lately. Since its rebirth in 1997, each new device has demonstrated a critical aspect of the "game-changer" to come. In a sense, the iPad represents the culmination of all that innovation.
A multiyear market share climb has brought the Mac to nearly 10 percent of the U.S. market. That demonstrates that Apple can achieve scale in a multifunction device like a PC.
The iPod and, more importantly, iTunes, demonstrated that Apple can bring proprietary multimedia or "authored" content to its devices.
The iPhone demonstrated that Apple devices can be a third party application magnet. For the first time, you can do a lot of really cool stuff on a non-PC platform.
The iPhone's innovative touch screen demonstrated that folks can browse the Web, email, and text on a small form-factor device without a keyboard. If only the screen was bigger.
Enter the iPad. It's all those prior Apple innovations wrapped into one simplified, multifunction, wireless device ... with a bigger display. And as the PC did to the mainframe, Apple's iPad is a better platform for doing the vast majority of what people currently do on their PCs.
But as I said earlier, that wouldn't be possible without that ginormous database in the sky, the Internet. The Internet or "the cloud" will free the PC from managing its own databases so it can become a simple set of applications -- like the iPad.
Of course, the virtual keyboard takes some getting used to, but if the next generation of children learn to type on a virtual keyboard, they'll never miss the other kind.
Don't get me wrong, Apple won't just walk away with prize. Indeed, there are competitive platforms, but they're fragmented. There's Google Android, Microsoft Mobile OS, Blackberry, and others. The same goes for processors.
So, while the likes of HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Acer will develop their own iPad-like devices, none will achieve Apple's scale. Even if they all adopt Android, Apple's got one hell-of-a head start. And this time, Apple has third party apps. Sure, it's a proprietary platform and Apple develops the killer apps, but so what? So did Microsoft, and that didn't stop the PC.
Yup, iPad will be a game changer all right. In 10 years or so, we'll all look back to its launch as the start of the new paradigm. And, on their virtual keyboards, a couple of bloggers will type, Who knew?
iPad image: Apple; PC image: Dell; Mainframe image: Flickr CC 2.0