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Changing the Face of Computing

June 23, 2010 - Dave Hecei

Computers have changed little over the last 30 plus years. They are faster, have more memory and storage, but except for a few shifts, they are still the same box. Apple and the iPad may have started a computer revolution.  

The first true personal computers – like the TRS-80 model I, the Apple II, the Atari 800 – were nothing more than programmable calculators with graphics. Most people used them to learn programming, play games, and perform minor problem solving tasks. When VisiCalc was introduced for the Apple II, software started driving computer sales. People bought the Apple II just to use VisiCalc. This was the beginning of the personal computer.  

Then came IBM. They created the first personal computer that was embraced by big, and small, business. IBM hit it big with their first PC and didn’t look back for a long time. It was a combination of open architecture hardware and Microsoft’s software, MSDOS. When Compaq created the first ‘100% IBM’ clone computer the PC industry exploded. This was the first revolution.  

Apple didn’t sit by idly they had something up their sleeves. This something was called GUI, the Graphical User Interface. This was a new way for an operating system to work by using pictures and a device called the mouse. The Macintosh was born from the ashes of Apple’s first failed GUI computer, the Lisa. It wasn’t long after that first Mac that Microsoft also saw the GUI light and they created Windows I. It eventually became Windows 95 and Microsoft soon took over the GUI world. This was the second revolution.  

From 1995 to 2010, the GUI was the operating system of choice for most all computers and other computer like devices. The mobile market started in the 90s, and some even suggest that it was Apple with the Newton that started it all. The company that broke through was Palm with the Palm Pilot. PDAs were extremely popular for several years, but then mobile phones started adding PDA functionality and soon the ‘smartphone’ was born.

The king of all smartphones today is the Apple iPhone. While there finally is some competition in this market, by HTC, Motorola, and others, the iPhone is still one of the most popular models, at least here in the states. Each year these phones get better and faster with some people using their smartphones in place of a laptop. This was the third revolution.  

What is the next revolution? With the introduction of the iPad this spring some could argue that it might be the ‘Pad’ or tablet computer. I will go one step further and say that it will be iOS4, the new Apple operating system for iPhones and iPads. I have no idea where the industry is going or what Apple’s plans are for the future. I can only see that computing is starting to shift. It is shifting away from traditional computer platforms. When an iPhone or an iPad, or similar mobile device, can be used by a growing number of people as their only computer, it looks to be another revolution.

I’m about to do something stupid, predict the future. What if Apple takes the iPad and goes to the next step and made it bigger? In the next four years the iMac could be based on iOS instead of OS X. This would mean that you could use it more like an appliance and not a computer. No longer would you have to worry about file systems and folder structure, just information – email, music, video, photos, etc. You won’t have to worry about drive volumes and partitions. The ‘computer’ disappears into the device.  

Fantasy, maybe, but I see people who don’t use computers and don’t know computers pick up an iPad and use it within minutes. This will be revolution number four.


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