'Jurassic Park' Proves That The PC Won't Die

'Jurassic Park' Proves That The PC Won't Die

Summary: In an "adapt or perish" world, the ever-evolving PC will still be the right tool for the right job, even if it lives alongside numerous other species of computing devices.


In the original Jurassic Park movie (which will be 20 years old this June), the young girl Lex Murphy (played by Ariana Richards) asks Dr. Alan Grant (played by Sam Neill) what happened to the dinosaurs. Dr. Grant replies with the thesis from his academic works (as quoted here):

Many scientists believe the dinosaurs never really died out 65 million years ago. These scientists believe dinosaurs live on today — as birds. The dinosaurs were too large and their food supply was too small, so the dinosaurs became a likely example of natural selection — in short, they were forced to adapt or perish.

The personal computer already experienced a large tectonic shift, evolving from velociraptor to sparrow in just a few years. Back in 2007, end-user computing looked very different from today: It was a simpler world of form factors, operating systems, and ecosystems. Even so, in 2007 we predicted:

By 2012, the industry won't include just two form factors, laptops and desktops, but five or more form factors that are universally viewed as differentiated products.

We were correct, and computing “biodiversity” bloomed: smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, eReaders, phablets, and form factors that peaked and fell quickly (like netbooks). In fact, we are living in an era of unprecedented experimentation — a flowering of myriad computing form factors attempting to carve out their own evolutionary pathways. The descendants of the velociraptor include a wide array of connected devices, each blazing its own trail.

Extending the metaphor further, we can ask: which species will rule the genus? As Wikipedia puts it: “Homo sapiens... are the only extant species of the genus Homo.” Homo erectusHomo rhodesiensis, the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis), and other, now extinct branches of the extended human family lived in the past. They were out-competed by modern humans.

While the platform wars will remain vigorous, another set of Darwinian battles are being waged inside ecosystems (or genuses): Forked vs. standard Android, for example.

Microsoft is — like all competitors in the market — in the midst of an "adapt or perish" transition. We are all familiar with Microsoft's attempt to move users to Windows 8. But that's not the only interesting evolutionary struggle. It's important to also look at intra-genus speciation: The Windows ecosystem is producing an astoundingly wide array of devices, from megafauna to niche competitors, including (but not even remotely limited to):

  • The 27” multi-user Lenovo IdeaCenter A720 furniture tablet.
  • The 23” HP Envy 23 Touchsmart all-in-one desktop PC.
  • The 18” Dell XPS 18 All-In-One tablet/desktop hybrid.
  • The 15.6” Toshiba Satellite S855D-S5148 laptop.
  • The 13” Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga convertible touchscreen.
  • The 11.6” Asus VivoTab TF810C tablet, stylus, hybrid.
  • The 10.6” Microsoft Surface Pro tablet/laptop hybrid.
  • The 10” Dell XPS 10 tablet with ARM processor.
  • The forthcoming category of 7” to 8” Windows 8/RT tablets.

The sheer diversity of options that have evolved in the Windows 8 device ecosystem means two things. First, would-be buyers and users face a dizzying array of choices and, consequently, confusion. Second, these users also have an opportunity to find the device that fits their usage case impeccably. These are two sides of the same coin; you don’t get the positive effects of specialization without the negative effect of market confusion.

Survival of the fittest means that only some of these form factors will survive... meaning that many of them will fail. Competitors within a genus will win on characteristics like user experience, brand, bundling, market segmentation, and channel. But some of them will surely find their niche. Others will die off, victims of the evolutionary competition, eclipsed by form factors that compete better. (Something quite similar — and in many ways even more fragmented — is happening within the Android genus as well).

In an "adapt or perish" world, when people ask “What happened to the PC?” the answer might well be “It evolved into that 7-inch Windows RT tablet in your backpack, and into that 27-inch Windows furniture PC in your office,” in addition to “survival of the fittest left Apple’s iPad the apex predator” and “Android devices led to habitat loss for the PC.” An ever-evolving PC will still be the right tool for the right job, even if it lives alongside numerous other species of computing devices. Anticipate both form factor failure and form factor diversity side-by-side over the next few years.

J. P. Gownder is a Vice President and Principal Analyst. Follow him on Twitter: @jgownder 

Topics: PCs, Tech Industry, Windows 8

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  • I'd agree, sorta.

    The evolution comparison is amusing - computers don't actually mutate and evolve, they're intentionally designed.

    But I do agree that the PC of the future will look different, and other form factors may become popular. One of the awesome things about today is we have so many more choices of form factor! I certainly hope this diversity continues.

    One thing that I will note, however: Installed base has not dropped with sales. There's actually still a large installed base of classic desktops and laptops. The PC is becoming an appliance - something you may keep for 10 years, rather than replace every 2 years.

    The days of planned obsolescence are fading away, and that's causing sales to drop. obsolescence is now "when it breaks," rather than "when it won't run the latest killer app anymore."
    • I agree with you except for one point:

      While planned obsolescence may be fading away for the traditional PC desktop or laptop form factor, it appears to be alive and well for the smartphone and tablet form factor. Otherwise, the vendors couldn't continue to increase profits.
      • BINGO.

        I said this very thing weeks ago.

        Once mobiles hit the same kind of hardware and OS brickwall where the hardware is more than copable of doing anything in the least practical on a smartphone or a tablet, the drive to buy the newest model will drop off radically and of course so will the profiteering.

        Lest we simply lose our minds completly and start dreaming that mobile products really are some magical thing thats in someway different then a PC or a toaster where once what you have is clearly much better than good enough, and a new one is a waste of money when the old one works great, mobile devices will experience in the very near future much the same as what PC's have. Simply a sales drop. not a usage drop or usage abandonment. Just that fewer are sold when fewer are needed or are wanted.

        Now if you put that in your pipe and smoke it, you will soon begin to realize that there is no magic to any of this. People have money. People want to spend their money, but they prefer to purchase new things they do not yet have. Then people want better things. Once they have what is actually much better then what they really need, then they start looking for something completly new that they dont have again.

        Nobody is going to sell 50 million new tablets a year forever. Wake up. Once everyone who ever wanted a tablet has one, and its a pretty good one, sales will slow and slow a lot.
  • th PC supremacy

    Is over, but in a world where technology evolves faster than anything else its hard to tell what's next and I can't believe the PC would just vanish from lives. It would probably change shape a dozen time before we find a better way to do IT work.
    Throw All The Things
  • Here's a thought

    What if we had the ultimate convergence. All the computing power we need in our smartphone (with a race to see if Intel or ARM can get there first) and simply different screen and input methods. So, when you're out and about, you use your phone. When you're home you may have a tablet that is actually a thin client to your phone (just gives you the larger screen size) or sit down at a full sized monitor and keyboard/mouse and still have it all run from your phone (via Bluetooth or some other wireless technology). Perhaps it will even shrink to wearable tech...
    • I'll say "no thanks" to a single point of failure.

      Here's my thought:

      I'll say "no thanks" to a single point of failure.
      • Did you always have multiple computers?

        That must have been expensive when PCs were $2000 a pop.
        Michael Kelly
        • It would have been expensive

          My first PC, a 286 clone with 3 MB memory (including 2 MB expanded memory), EGA card, color monitor, separate 287 math coprocessor, 30 MB hard drive, and high speed dot matrix printer, cost $5500 in 1987 dollars. The second, for my wife's editing business, a 486 with VGA monitor, 4 MB memory, 80 MB hard drive, and LaserJet III printer, was $3200 in 1990 dollars. The first was not thrown away until many years later.
        • startups

          We started our company on the first real computer we could afford to buy as individuals. It had two floppy drives, 64K of RAM and it retailed for $40,000. That was a TI DS990 that filled the bed of a pickup when boxed for transport.
        • It's not 1980 anymore.

          It's not 1980 anymore. Most people can afford to own (and indeed most people have) multiple devices.

          So you think we shouldn't take advantage of technological advances anymore?
    • or the other way around

      Here is a possible thought - with our phones ever connected to data for everything, what if the mobile device became a "dumb terminal" for a cloud based personal server where everything was done and stored? I have seen video from Corning about completely transparent handheld devices - I assume they are only display points, with no localized computing power.
      dave the IT guy
    • Convergence

      I don't buy this - the technology will continue to get cheaper, so why would I be concerned about buying a processor (or two) for each job? I think the whole "and you'll run everything through your phone" argument ignores the simple fact that hardware is cheap and gets cheaper over time.

      Also can you really see Intel helping us to managing with one processor? Turkeys don't vote for Christmas.
    • one small device

      @kiz, I would agree with you with one small (large!!) quibble...Computers have always gotten smaller and more capable. There is no reason to believe that this will change anytime soon (or perhaps ever). What was once a full board PC now resides on a single chip. The two things that have not kept up are analog input and output, i.e. keyboards, mice,and monitors. Yes, they have gotten smaller, and at the same time less usable rather than more, like the rest of the device. The biggest roadblock is probably battery technology, which while trying valiantly, is far behind what it needs to be to power the device as it becomes more capable and remains the same size or smaller. There are many ideas on the drawing board, but they need to be on the street to be usable. Plus, no one is "really" writing software anymore. The extra power of hardware is used to run thousands of applets that barely do one function. We had that back in the 90's...

      I lived through a time when new, more powerful PCs were released very often and new software that taxed the hardware was released all the time. We have become content to use a PC like a handheld toy. In fact, I have not seen a single manufacturer tout call quality as a major selling point. It is all about how well you can play games and surf the web...
    • Look at the Ubuntu Phone

      This is what Ubuntu is planning to do at some point. They are creating a sort of all in one phone that will allow you to use it with whatever peripheral you want. For example do you want to use it as a desktop, just plug it into the desktop dock. Want a tablet just plug it into the tablet peripheral. I think it is a good idea on paper but the execution needs to be almost flawless.
  • Interesting....

    Like the biological evolution comparison. All things evolve (go through similar patterns) whether its biological or not, including those items designed by humans. I do expect the next smart phone will be a personal robot (lol).
  • Your basic logic is solid, but you're ignoring economics...

    As products become commoditized, profit margins decline, so increasingly large numbers of them have to be sold. But as the demand for certain types of products (such as desktops) declines, it becomes increasingly difficult to sell adequate quantities.

    That doesn't mean desktop computers (or notebooks) don't meet a real need or that there isn't a real market for them. It's just that the market isn't as profitable as it "should" be.

    Five years from now, there will still be people for whom a desktop or notebook is exactly what they need. Whether such products will be available is another matter. A (not-exact) parallel can be drawn with instant photography. A fair number of people want and need silver-based instant imaging, but the market is so small (relatively), that Fuji is the only company manufacturing such products -- and only a limited range.
  • Off point

    In the movie Jurassic Park it was run by a pair of Macintosh Quadra 700s.
  • Don't you hate being treated like some child on Sesame Street?

    Everyday, I'm bombarded by ads, commercials, posts, etc... telling me that the "Ole Dino." is in intensive care, but hasn't passed yet. I'm "entertained" by an "i" commercial where everyone dances around looking flashy and impo'tnt, showing me how to use my expensive and ultimately disposable device to ignore the all that is my reality, until my reality reminds me with a swift and usually brutal swat of my irresponsibility.
    CobraA1 has a point, but intentional design is an evolutionary process in itself. The simple facts are that the big corporations are in a massive fight for survival of the fittest and are pulling out a no holds barred approach into retraining you to thinking [subliminal brainwash seems more apt.] the way they "need" you to for their sales. i.e. the Pc is dead. Buy our COOL, STATUS, FUN, JOIN OUR PARTY, FOLLOW like lemmings, until the big bankruptcy if we loose this gamble with your money. [Microsoft] BUY OUR expensive, overpriced, disposable, un-adaptable, AND proprietary [Apple and Microsoft] THINGS.
    With the advance of technology, every two years you have to spend another $500.00 to $1000.00 just to stay useable, functioning, and COMPATIBLE. You start getting jealous of each other by the end of the year. [Seen that new commercial?] [Atta boy/girl, here's your wubbee!]
    Both of these companies seem to have accidentally made strides towards progress only to corrupt the process with personal greed for control and influence. To be "it".
    My version is a system that works towards my welfare, and is affordable, adaptable, EASILY INTEGRATED into the whole network of my personal system, [non- proprietary] with each item of which, is a modular component EASILY bought and swapped out by the average layman customer. Picture a system of modular, swappable, cubes. Cpu, Ram, Storage, Removable Data access, and various external custom add-ons [aps] as we see fit. The smart phone will evolve into a universal Cpu that will interact and control all the other user modules of the system. [Entertainment, Kitchen, Garage, Communication/Interaction Link...]
    Of course, they will have to greatly change their OSs, improve battery life 100 fold, and at least double the processor speed to even come close to that dream or match what a desktop Pc can do now.
    I keep waiting for someone to build a case mod that will incorporate and commercialize that idea. [I'm of course working on my own.]
    The freedom to express yourself and your ideas is where true growth stems from, not having someone tell you what to like, [and what not to.] and controlling your options.
    To "MS" and "i- co", the smart money is in co-operation with one another. Take what works, improve if possible, LISTEN to the people who PAY your salaries, for what to add or remove.

    • Interesting thoughts.

      I agree with much of what you say. Strangely enough, the psychology of much of the worlds population of sheeple has changed significantly over the last few years. Narcissism rules the roost and has given rise to the success of Facebook and the likes. A debt funded consumeristic society that puts more value on obtaining social approval from friends by purchasing the latest gadget on credit, locking themselves into multi-year contracts, then paying exhorbitant fees for data and the likes, has got technology and advertising companies doing happy dances. The sheep are finally lining up to take the blue pill.

      The enterprise scene is a little different. The ad companies like Google and Facebook want to record every aspect of your personal life, and will provide the tools to do so (Android, Facebook Home, Google Glass), whereas the corporation wants to control you as an employee, and will give you the tools to use to (hopefully) be productive at work, whilst still being tightly controlled (firewalls, group policy, website filtering, time tracking etc).

      Ultimately, the vast majority of changes in technology are about shifting control from personal freedom, to corporations and government. But that's ok, as long as we can still play Angry Birds and see what Jessica had for lunch.
  • So Says Who?

    What a lot of nonsense. The earth is flat ... and tablets will die. Dinosaurs.
    Being Guided