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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 20 July 2018, 3:56 pm

The circle of life

There's a cycle that major brands go through that's often entertained me. They start off as the challenger. The new kid on the block. Hey look at us, they say, we're hip. We're trendy. We're on point.

(Being hip, trendy and on point, they probably don't say anything of the sort but I am none of those things so that's how they speak in my head)

And so they enter the public consciousness, seemingly from nowhere, and the upend the apple cart and cause no end of consternation.

There are plenty of examples of this. Uber is the flavour of the month. Tesla is another. They come in, they disrupt an industry, the shake things up and everyone loves them.

Then the wheel turns.

Suddenly they're at the top of the S-curve. People love them, but… there are questions. Why don't they do This Thing that I want them to do? How is it they haven't thought of That Problem they're creating?

The public by and large still support them but they've gone off the boil. They're Pixar, when they realised Cars 2. Suddenly they're no longer fresh and exciting but instead they've become somewhat predictable and staid.

And then the wheel turns again.

Now they're the incumbent. Now they're The Man and someone else is coming along to ask questions of them, to demand answers. They might even get regulated by a grumpy regulator who thinks they've now amassed too much power, too much control and too much money. Suddenly, their success has become their weakness and they're likely to be taken down a notch or two.

We've seen this before. IBM introduced the Personal Computer and lo! it was good. Audacious. Bold. Innovative.

Then along came Microsoft that did it better and IBM was the dullard, the laggard, the mouth breather who couldn't cope.

So then Microsoft was king but then along came Google and blam! Microsoft was on the ropes and everyone was all "yay, Android, yay Chrome, boo Internet Explorer" although to be honest we were always a bit that way inclined anyway.

Vodafone has had to endure this. It started out as the challenger brand in the New Zealand market. Telecom was a former government monopoly, favoured by everyone's mum and dad, unable to even cope with a new model of "text messages" and unable to compete so resorting to alleged dirty tricks and walking backwards slowly fending off regulation.

Then Vodafone did the unthinkable - it won! It actually beat out the incumbent telco and became not only the provider of choice for the cool set but the provider of choice for everybody! My god, now what do we do?

What we do in that situation is we become the incumbent and popular interest turns against you before you know it the cool kids are off with the other guy doing other stuff and hey, you were It once but now you're not.

Which brings us, eventually (sorry about that) to Google.

Google was it. Google revolutionised search. Pre-Google it was a mess. Post Google it just works. Google made a fortune and then Google introduced other things. Android took on Apple in the mobile operating market and now dominates, depending how you measure it. Google introduced email to the home user and made it work and work well. Google took on Microsoft in the browser wars and won. Google took on Microsoft in the office stakes and introduced capability Microsoft only dreamed about. Google introduced Chromebooks and revolutionised a huge segment of the market, bringing browser-based access to the world and giving educators and low-income users a viable platform.

Google won the war.

But the wheel has turned again and now Google is being hit by regulators in the EU keen to understand why it is Google thinks it's OK to force its products on mobile users. Google is being tackled on issues of privacy and the "right" to be forgotten. Google is seen as a problem as much as it is a solution and the era of "Google's mandate is 'don't be evil'" has long since passed by to be replaced by quarterly performance results and the kind of soggy mid-life crisis that hits most big ticket brands.

Google is no longer the poster child for innovation, for solutions, for doing the right thing by your user. Now, it's a corporate monolith that has been found, in the EU at least, to abuse its position of responsibility and is unwilling to play by the rules - and so has been slapped with a whopping NZ$7 billion fine.

Even if the company paid it (which it won't. It'll fight to the bitter end) the problem won't go away. For Google the wheel has turned and it's going to be mighty tough to regain the love of the people, even if they wanted to.

Stuff - Europe slams Google with a record $7.4 billion antitrust fine

The Verge - Google's European fine is a flashback to Microsoft's ugly antitrust battle

Wired - Don't expect big changes from Europe's record Google fine

The Register - Fork it! Google fined €4.34bn over Android, has 90 days to behave




OK Computer

The PC game isn't what it used to be, that's for sure.

When I started as a tech journalist (in the year of our lord nineteen hunnerd and ninety six or so) it was all about the PC. Intel would launch a new chipset (now with MMX) and we'd go crazy writing up the specs, talking to the PC makers (including Compaq and PC Direct) and generally causing a kerfuffle.

I'd missed the halcyon days of the Windows 95 launch with the midnight queues at Whitcoulls (remember them?) but I was in plenty of time to see every PC in the office reporting "It is now safe to shut down your PC" long after the humans had left thanks to Windows 98.

These days, it's hard to drum up much enthusiasm for a new PC. I have one on my desk now. When I say new, I mean it's about three years old. There was nothing really wrong with the one it replaced (for the love of god don't tell my wife) but Windows XP was getting a bad rap and frankly I couldn't play any of the newer PC games on it so I put in a procurement request for an upgrade and eventually it was signed off. Of course, my carpal tunnel syndrome and my dodgy eyesight means not only can I not compete on the PC gaming front in a timely fashion (I have inbuilt lag) but the way my eyes now work I get motion sick as well, so that's me done. Maybe I need an upgrade.

But beyond that, there's really no business need to get a new PC and if I do get one, it'll be a laptop. Most of my work is spent on a laptop - a MacBook Air to be precise - and I have little need to get a better one. The upgrade path for that box of tricks is a MacBook Pro which costs a bomb, has nothing to sell me on it other than the fact it's practically two dimensional, and has a keyboard that doesn't work too well. The new model should fix that but really, do I have any great burning desire to buy another one?

No, no I do not.

And I'm not alone. The PC market is stagnant at best and there's a very good reason for that, after all this time. We used to buy PCs to do all the computing things and now we have other devices to do most of them. The consumer market is dominated by iPads and tablets, by smart phones and by set-top box gaming stations of all ilk. There's no need for a PC to do the things they do and only luddites like me bother with a desktop these days.

Even the corporate market has gone to laptops, but even there we're seeing a real push towards BYOD.

So it's no surprise to read the stats that say we're in a flat, commodity-based market on a global scale and despite this quarter's leap (sorry, that should read "leap"), the computing market is pretty much the walking dead.

The era of the computer on every desktop is over. Today, we're looking at a computer in every room and probably every pocket and, sadly, the PC is too unwieldly for that.

TechBlog - New Macbook line-up

Reseller News - Early indications show PC shipment growth for first time in six years


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