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The 'Toasterization' of the PC, and Why Things Really Are Different This Time


The release of Microsoft's Windows 8 failed to revive PC sales.These days, the PC is basically a toaster. It's not a source of interest in and of itself -- it's a tool for getting a job done.

And now, please indulge me while I take a trip down memory lane.

When I was a kid back in the 1980s, in my middle-class Brooklyn neighborhood, it was a big, big deal when someone owned a computer because they were so expensive. I rarely saw computers outside of school.

But in the 1990s, when the Internet came along and prices dropped, people that were not wealthy and/or nerdy had good reason to buy a computer. In the blink of an eye, everyone started buying computers, and the industry exploded.

But when everyone finally owns something, it becomes less exciting and maturity starts to set in.

These days, the PC is basically a toaster. It's not a source of interest in and of itself -- it's a tool for getting a job done.

My toaster makes toast. And my computer allows me to consume media, use social networks, edit photos.

The market has shifted far, far away from people who were interested in computers themselves to folks who simply use them to complete a task.

In my mind, that makes the PC something you simply replace when it breaks -- just another household appliance that is purchased for logical (as in, not emotional) reasons.

But think about what's going on in mobile.

Does any owner of an iPhone 4S really need an iPhone 5? Does anyone really need to upgrade to the latest iPad?

Nope, but smartphones and tablets are still in their high-excitement phase, and that means emotional purchases that build real momentum -- just like PCs in the '90s when the Internet hit, or in 2006-2008 when motion-controlled video games boomed.

And that's why things really are different this time for PCs. There are only so many emotional dollars to go around, and an absolute ton of them are now going to the current class of exciting gadgets -- Apple and Android-powered mobile devices.

Twitter: @MichaelComeau

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