Mature markets thrive because of specialization, not in spite of it. Think of shoes. How many pairs do you own? How many do you really need? Or kitchen pots. How many pots do you own? How many do you need? Or cars. How many different types are out there? How many do we really need?
The answer is, as many as they want to make. We want specialty shoes because there's a real difference between road biking shoes and mountain biking shoes. Between brown shoes and cordovan shoes and black shoes. Between dress shoes and party shoes. And those differences matter. Riding 35 miles in your dress shoes makes no sense.
And we want the best pot for the polenta or risotto or Bolognese we're making. We want the car that best suits the way we drive and live and schlep stuff. We want the right tool for the job. The same is true for computers or tablets or smartphones. We want the right tool for the job.
When you show me a spork or a rubber soled dress shoe or an El Camino, I think, "that's neither spoon nor fork, neither practical nor dressy, neither car nor truck." So when you show me Windows 8 on the new Dell XPS 12, I think spork, not specialized. It's a straddle. And straddles don't win.
The future of devices (call it post-PC if you like; I just think of it as the right tool for the job) is specialized: the right tool for the job, and a steady evolution to the right tool. The logic is simple:
- A specialized device is just better for the specific thing you are trying to do. And if you find yourself pushing the boundaries of what the device can do, you'll just buy a different device, or perhaps accessorize it to suit.
- You can afford to buy the devices you want. When a computer cost more than a car (my new PC XT cost more than my new Dodge Colt in 1984), you could only afford one. But now that they cost less than a nice meal out for two, cost is not usually a barrier to the people reading this blog.
People will gravitate towards the devices that best suit the way they live and work, and that means they will buy specialized products that fit their particular needs. And that means vendors will define and build for every market nook and cranny they can find. Sure, some people will buy devices that straddle a PC and tablet or tablet and phone or TV and game table. After all, people do buy sporks. And there's an active market for old El Caminos. But if the history of markets is any predictor, we'll see vendors making specialized products that fit a niche and most people buying the specialized products that best suit their needs.
So while it's great to see vendors build things like 18" tablets or touchscreen computers to test the waters, it's also important to evaluate these things based on whether they are the right tool for the job. And if somebody tries to sell you a spork, just say no.