My typical ramblings concerning technology are usually tipped off by something that happens in the market of technology, but today, not so much. Rather, I was out doing my thing and swung by a Best Buy – a place I haven’t been in quite some time, surprisingly – at least two years. The experience was quite an eye-opener in many ways. I used to patronize this same Best Buy a decade ago – it was my go-to place for computer hardware and computer technology in general, but the format has significantly shifted from desktop-domination to portable products. There was only four options for box-style PC’s. In any case though there was 60+ options for laptops, 30+ for tablets, 15+ for all-in-ones, not to mention the plethora of options for smart phones and media players. Computer hardware was relegated to a corner, replaced by consumer electronics galore.
Computer hardware was largely what got me interested in computing, but what has happened is that computer hardware and computers in general have been commoditized. Commoditization is defined as the phenomenon when goods and services become viewed as simple commodities in the eyes of consumers. Branding becomes unimportant and is generally irrelevant and pricing is dictated by supply and demand. This perception has recently lead me to part with all the spare parts I used to keep around, I sold what I could and the rest is likely to go in the trash soon enough. System upgrades and repairs have been replaced by yearly or bi-yearly product cycles, and businesses nowadays place more emphasis on product launches than they do on product features because of this.
Apple is fighting fiercely to preserve its brand though. Steve Jobs declared “thermonuclear” war on Android and has been waging a number of proxy battles against Google through handset makers like Samsung and HTC. Notably, in the midst of the hardware available at Best Buy was a spot sectioned off with the Apple Store ambiance present, featuring all the currently available Macs. This pointed effort to prevent brand is perhaps in direct response to the perceived threat of the commoditization of electronic devices. Even Microsoft has to fight commoditization too with fierce competition from competitors like Google. Its cash-cow, the Windows operating system, has been revamped and the money making model is apparently shifting to software as a service rather than software as a product, considering Microsoft’s emphasis on mobility and cloud computing in their latest and greatest products.
The days of the white-box PC are gone and PC technicians are becoming obsolete in many ways. As commoditization creeps in, computer electronics will become like gasoline, paper towels, and shoes – things that are bought, used, and discarded when they outlive their usefulness.