Many people have been noticing for a while now that the mobile telcos have been promoting the apps that run on their phones as opposed to the OS, or even the specific device. I have no doubt, this was inspired by Apple, and the App Store, but it seems to have spread rather handily to non iPhone carriers as well. With this in mind, I think we have started to see an age of mobile computing that really doesn’t care about the OS that is running the phone as long as there are a collection of apps that will allow the user to get the work that they consider “mission critical” to get done, done. People also don’t want to have to bother with the OS at all when they are using a phone. Form factor also comes into play, as some people like the keyboard and others don’t, but the long and the short of it is that if you want to be able to get to your Facebook on the go in addition to being able to use star charts, you have X number of choices. As you increase the length of the wish list, the number of devices that you would find acceptable drop, assuming you are equally comfortable in any environment.
This last point is important, as if you are not comfortable in the the interface presented on say the Blackberry, and prefer the iPhone app, well then you are likely going to pick an iPhone (or iPod) when it comes time to get a phone. If one of the compromises that you are not willing to make when mobile is the use of physical keys, then you might be forced back the ‘berry, but you might then also consider one of the Android or Symbian phones out there. These sorts of compromises are expected when looking at the smaller form factors, but as the form factor gets larger, people are willing to compromise less and arguably, the definition of mission critical application also changes.
Moving into the netbook space and beyond, you might start looking at being able to do more than initiate and respond to messages. You might want to be able to create and edit, with some degree of sophistication, content. Both MacOS and Windows based laptops provide this functionality, but with different amount of babysitting on the part of the user. The MacOS and Win7 provide “just works” level of operation, while XP, Vista and *nix systems will suffer some with respect to usability. This need to babysit the OS detracts from being able to use the apps that one wants to be able to get to for their work. As the machine gets bigger, physical and connectivity compromises change, but there will always be the need to give and take with respect to something.
Nothing I’ve said here should be rocket science to anyone, so why take the time to write this up? Well, this weekend I got thinking about ChromeOS and what it will take for it to really take off with the non geek crowd. It will be the apps. There are already ‘net based versions of Photoshop and Office and I can’t imagine that with those two suites moving to online offerings, that others won’t follow. Right now, those apps will work on a range of browsers, making compromises for all manner of browser based issues. But if that ‘net app is accessed through Chrome, some of those compromises will likely be mitigated as they would be able to have access to many more resources than they currently can. So if Chrome rolls out with a suite of apps from Microsoft, Adobe and Apple (I really hope Apple is thinking about doing something with respect to a ‘net based Aperture for Chrome), things might just take off, solving another problem users of netbooks and larger systems. That being what the heck should they buy?
This question is what crystallized this post for me yesterday while watching the game with my brothers. Apple has really helped users simplify the purchasing process by presenting the basics – size and price (and charging a pretty penny for this simplification). Windows systems on the other hand are just as complex a buying experience as ever, in large part due to the selection that serves to drive prices down to loss leading levels. So how should someone looking to buy a computer make the choice these days? It should not matter what the hardware is or what the OS is. Google’s move into the OS market might help this out however. If ChromeBooks start coming out next year, the hardware will really become irrelevant. It won’t matter if you get one built by Acer, Asus or AnyOneElse. With Chromium, it won’t even matter if the hardware is Apple, once you boot and login, you have access to what really matters, the apps that you use to get things done.