Magazine -- May 16, 1995
(No longer available on PCMag site, so this is a local copy)
Trends & Technology Shaping the Personal Computer Market
GREG BLONDER, DIRECTOR OF THE Human-Centered Engineering Research Lab
at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, is investigating what
people want to do with computers in the future. He believes that lack
of innovation is stalling the PC industry, and has some interesting ideas
about what's needed to jump start it. His theory of "dominant design"
raises a warning flag: No one is innovating; they're just imitating.
PC Magazine: Where will the next big breakthroughs in computing come from?
Greg Blonder: Because of the "groupthink" that goes on in the PC industry,
real innovation is going to come from a different industry or from some
other platform. It could come from television, Hollywood, the communications
industry, or from somewhere entirely unexpected. The innovation driver
may be a product or service for constant two-way communications. Wireless
technology might make a difference in what the operating system ought
to be. When you talk about portable devices with communications, that's
not at all like DOS or Windows. It's about lightweight systems with an
entirely different view of what matters. That could be it.
will computers look like in the future?
are going to make fundamental changes in our behavior, but we won't think
of them as computers because they'll be invisible. These hidden computers
will provide experts' advice and projections about the future, something
computers are getting very good at now. You might be an architect licensed
in New Jersey, and you get a contract to build a house in New York. The
expert system will tell you the changes you have to make in order to meet
all the zoning codes in New York. It's an absolutely predictive problem
that a computer can handle very well.
on-line services continue to grow rapidly?
all the hype, there are no more than 5 million people who use the Internet
or on-line services in a robust way on a daily basis. What are the other
millions of households going to do with this capability? People have always
done more or less the same things except in different venues. As more
users got involved, they've completely warped the Internet so that it's
now a communications medium. It's a sign that people mold computers in
their own image rather than the other way around.
do you think that innovation is stalling in the PC industry?
one of the reasons why computers aren't innovative is because the marketplace
for computers has perfect communication between all the users.
came up with a different way of building cars because they were 10,000
miles away from Detroit. They had a different environment around them,
and it forced them to do things differently. But the computer industry
is on the opposite side of the spectrum. It sounds silly to say that perfect
communication is bad, but I genuinely think that's why there's such a
paucity of innovation. What happens is that oddball software hardly ever
gets a chance to get a foothold. There used to be a difference between
DOS and Apple, which gave people a reason to choose. Then Microsoft copied
the design, made Windows dominant, and now there's no choice. Dominant
designs aren't always efficient. They often arise through the happenstance
of history. It's very difficult to displace the dominant design.