The death of the shared family computer

Computers, like telephones, originally entered U.S. homes in a single unit, tucked away just out of sight but usually accessible to all. Katie Reid at The Verge:

I can still see the Dell I grew up using as clear as day, like I just connected to NetZero yesterday. It sat in my eldest sister’s room, which was just off the kitchen. Depending on when you peeked into the room, you might have found my dad playing Solitaire, my sister downloading songs from Napster, or me playing Wheel of Fortune or writing my name in Microsoft Paint. The rules for using the family desktop were pretty simple: homework trumped games; Dad trumped all. Like the other shared equipment in our house, its usefulness was focused and direct: it was a tool that the whole family used, and it was our portal to the wild, weird, wonderful internet. As such, we adored it.

I remember the phenomenon of losing my dial up internet connection because someone picked up the phone, or patiently waiting my turn to check my email. The PowerMac 7200 (or the IIsi before it) was parked in a spare bedroom and required time and effort to log on. The thought of having unlimited personal access to the internet anywhere you went seemed crazy.

Today when I stand on the subway platform virtually everyone is staring down, their faces aglow in blue light. I’m just as guilty as anyone else- with Bluetooth earbuds plugged into my head I commute in a personal media bubble. As a perfect example of “do as I say and not as I do” we attempt to limit the kids’ access to devices as best we can, knowing that society will eventually force us to relinquish control. Katie Reid:

The advent of constant access has inevitably changed our relationship with tech. At one time, discovering the magical capabilities of our devices astonished and invigorated us. Now, we find them glomming on to our routines: joining us for dinner or family strolls, going on vacations or out on dates with us, waking us up in the morning and tucking us in at night. Though it was harder to come by, the computer time you ended up with on the shared family desktop was cherished and, maybe as a result, that much sweeter. Yet there was an untroubled ritual that, day after day, required us to step away.

Dell taking another swing at tablets

John Paczkowski’s tongue-in-cheek headline for AllThingsD (Dell Really Hoping It Won’t Have to Discontinue Next Tablet) hints at the trouble OEM computer manufacturers face in this new world of mobile.

Dell also appears to be putting a lot more thought into its approach to the market this time around. Certainly, the company seems to understand that tablets don’t succeed on hardware or software alone, but on the ecosystem surrounding them.

“When you are talking about PC, people are more focused on the hardware itself,” Felice said. “When you are talking about the tablet or the smartphone, people are interested in the overall environment it’s operating in. As we have matured in this, we are spending a lot more time in the overall ecosystem.”

How much control over the ecosystem does Dell have?  They don’t produce their own OS so they are at the mercy of Google or Microsoft.  They don’t have an entrenched mobile marketplace so theres a vacuum of customers that needs to be filled.  And most importantly they don’t have the mindshare: when you think Dell you think cheap commoditized computers, not carefully cultivated ecosystem.