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Why IT has a lot to fear from consumer computing

by on27 December 2012

Consumers are stupid

As 2012 ended, the world is in the grips of a dark demon called consumer computing. Like many things, such as reality television, which emerged straight from Satan’s bottom, consumer computing is being touted as an evolution. If that is the case then we need to be very afraid.

It all started the sultan of shallow himself, Steve Jobs. Jobs was never able to produce new or innovative technology, but he could market it brilliantly. He took technology which was going nowhere, like the MP3 player, the tablet, and the smartphone and made them viable to a new market – the consumer. Shifting to the consumer market was clever. Consumers know very little about technology, all they require is that it looks good and can do gimmicky things. If you are particularly clever you can lock them into a world where you end up paying for services that they do not need or are not particularly good.

The model as attracted the interest of Microsoft but also others outside the IT industry, such as airlines, which are thinking of making similar moves. But 2012 already has started to see the consumerisation of IT have some bad effects. It is a moot point if the world was really ready for mobile computing. The chips were too slow, the power rates were too high and above all the software was not there. Android and iOS simply are not up to snuff when it comes to the sort of software which has been emerging from the PC era for decades. It is wide open when it comes to security. Consumer IT has never really been worried much about security. If someone breaks into an Iphone the worst they are going to steal is a few phone numbers and a Coldplay collection. Mobile hacks are only interesting if they are celebrities and there are few of them as a percentage of consumer use. This matter of security is a bugbear when it comes to people wanting their portable toys to connect to company networks. Consumers will want this, sensible IT people do not.

Consumers also want gadgets, they do not really need to have a use for them. The tablet, which had been sitting around gathering dust in stores for decades have become a must have for consumers. However, they still are awaiting a reason to exist. Even after the tablet boom, no user has come up with a concrete reason to own one yet. But that does not matter with the consumerism of IT, because they do not have to. They just have to buy them. Traditionally products were consumerised long after technology had been researched and engineers had their wicked way with it. Now it is getting pushed out early for the novelty value. Apple’s iMap fiasco, which followed its Siri fiasco, is a case in point. Both products were designed to push consumer iPhones which were more or less the same as previous products. However both failed. The idea for the technology was great, but it had not been developed enough to actually put a product in the market. But Apple could not release a new phone to consumers without a novelty to push.

This is the opposite of what happened in the IT industry since the 1960s. While the industry managed to grow, and there has been shedloads of innovation, technology was bought out at a sustainable pace after years of proper development. Microsoft’s product cycle was much slower and allowed for improvement. Under its new “consumer” regime, Microsoft has been calling for different products to be pushed out faster to fulfill the novelty value of consumers. In this environment, standards will fall further. What is telling is that consumerisation is actually leading to a poorer IT existence. Hardware standards are falling as firms juggle to try to make up investment in hardware with services related to the gear they are trying to sell. Just open the back of the gear that is being sold now and see the quality of components. It is no wonder that Apple has been leaning on the EU to reduce its warranty standards for electronic gear from two years to one.

Meanwhile there is much talk about the death of the PC, and yet there is not a single consumer gadget which can match its versatility and power particularly for the price. It might have come from a non-consumer model, but it is still far superior to any mobile toy out there. This dumbing down of the industry, will have the same effect that the dumbing down of television had in the 1990s. Soon the industry will be looking at the IT equivalent of “changing rooms” and “Big Brother.”

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