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Timothy Meade
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Timothy Meade

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How customer service killed the PC

Hewlett Packard, which current sells the most of what is commonly referred to as a Personal Computer, just announced they were spinning off that business. This makes sense as they were less profitable than Apple at their own game, selling tons of computers but still making too little on each one to make up their costs (or make the kind of profit the shareholders wanted, which, in the end, is the same thing).

They also have "discontinued WebOS operations," which is a polite way of saying they killed their mobile platform dead. You probably don't care, clutching an Android or iPhone smartphone, or maybe cradling a BlackBerry, but, if you had a Pre, you probably upgraded already.

The market has spoken and Android and Apple have won. But that's just mobile, let's talk about PC's for a moment.

The fact is people in general do not know how to use the powerful devices we have been given as personal laptops, we don't know how to protect them from viruses, we don't know how to choose the web browser that we use to visit websites or, in many cases, the search engine.

And we know, if HP had done what I'm suggesting, what would have happened. Millions of confused individuals would have been calling into the HP's outsourced support asking the same question, "why is my new computer broken?"

Because what I am suggesting is for HP to have made WebOS the default operating system on their consumer laptops, tablets, printers, and everything else. These devices would still boot into Windows, but you would have to select that option when you started the computer or explicitly made it the default in a control panel option somewhere.

HP could then roll out their own app store, genericizing the term even more, take a percentage of the profits, and run the same apps on their touch screen laptops and desktops as their tablets (but with different HTML-based UI for each variant.)

Instead, they planned to ride the Microsoft train to the bottom along with the rest of the PC industry, eventually disembarking for the lucrative business IBM used to be in.

A different ball game

It's easy enough to say that this proves Apple right, as if only iOS, or OSX could meet peoples' needs, as though the whole PC industry just folded up at the sight of the menace of Cupertino. It ignores the degree of incompetence each and every one of the companies demonstrated, the traditional conventional wisdom they should have abandoned years ago, as many models as we possibly can make for as many different people as possible, sold by disinterested third-parties in big box stores without a compelling story that can filter down to everybody as Apple's has. Even if the public at large gets a small percentage of the "facts" involved in making an informed decision, study after study shows this is normal. Apple gets this, they Colbert-like feel the decision at you, personifying the brand as "iPod" when Dell will happily sell you the MX-1300 and HP the Pavilion VX8330 or some such number and Sony the SG-UX358V Viao. Really? Apple has MacBook Air 13.3 and you have what again??

The PC guys, the fans of the Windows platform, and fans of the Android platform searching desperately for schadenfreude at Apple's expense, are forced to settle with poking fun at Jobs' presentation style and the Reality Distortion Field, but the reality here is not distorted, it's that concentrating on a few models and presenting them to roaring and adoring crowds with CNN looking on is actually good business.

And when those devices flow effortlessly from iPod to iPhone to iPad to MacBook Air, growth and profits outclassing every other PC manufacturer is not actually that surprising.

To close, HP has seen the future and it's not HP, it's not Windows 8 on everything, or the confusing app story that Microsoft is pushing, it's not a future as a passive consumer of whatever platform Compal or Asustek builds for them to resell to an increasing hostile and ever confused public. Something that starts with a BIOS purchased from a BIOS maker, is mixed with a CPU from AMD or Intel that's actually 100% compatible with the one in the first IBM PC, combined with a chipset and VGA video chip and BIOS that could run DOS 1.0 if you so chose. And we are actually surprised that the nineties are finally over and the post PC era might actually exist? That people no more want Windows and it's antivirus headaches, than they ever booted from floppy, except by mistake? Computers are too hard for our populace, they want something that "just works," and Apple, so far is the only provider to actually deliver on that promise.

Pricing in failure

Business and individuals around the world already expect the computing experience to be a painful and frustrating one, a barrier to their Facebook, Cityville, and Hulu bliss. A necessary road bump to get to Cafe World, or email partners, debug a PHP app, update Salesforce or Basecamp, or check the numbers on the funnel.

At the same time, we price in productivity losses from technology alongside the gains already realized and use PC related downtime as an excuse to relax or take a break. If our work PC worked we might have to do actual work! If it worked like iPad we might never stop handling a client's needs.
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