By Jim McCarthy Jul 6, 2012 0 comments

“The PC is a Truck”

Steve Jobs has posthumously influenced my thinking on something in a way that I think may have a similar impact on many of you.

Two years ago, Jobs was being interviewed at the All Things D conference and was asked about the future of the PC.  (Here, by the way, we’re not talking about the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” distinction.  We’re talking about personal computers, aka desktop computers in the broader sense.)

Here’s what he said:

“When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks. But as people moved more towards urban centers, people started to get into cars. I think PCs are going to be like trucks.”

That’s absolutely perfect.  If you want to understand the texture of the future when it comes to the kinds of devices people will be using, a pretty good rule of thumb is to think about automobiles.  People have a variety of different kinds of needs: one person might need a pickup truck because they work in construction; another person might just want a high mileage car to get them to the grocery store and back and forth to work; some will want an SUV packed with creature comforts for a combination of practical and impractical reasons; some people even buy sports cars that are totally impractical but meet a psychological need.

We’ve lived through an era where, as Jobs said, we all drove trucks.  Those machines on our desks were capable of a lot, but had the same kinds of limitations.  A laptop computer is different, but more or less a variant on a desktop.  It functions like a desktop, but you can move it around.  What we’ve got now is a whole palette of choices, and when you think about the future, it will be diverse in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.  If you ever want to get a sense of that diversity, find a busy street and sit and watch the vehicles roll by for a few minutes, noticing all the different “devices” people are using to get around.

And then notice one more thing…depending on where you live (but in most places in the U.S.), you’ll see a wide variety of vehicles, but you’ll see a whole lot of trucks.  Jobs’s point was not triumphalist.  As the inventor of the iPad, his comment wasn’t about dancing on the grave of the personal computer.  The “post-PC era” isn’t about the PC dying or going away; it’s about the emergence of a much more robust range of choices for different consumer applications.

And, by the way, the number one selling light vehicle in America in June 2012?  It’s the Ford F Series pickup truck, selling almost 50% more than the number 2 vehicle, the Toyota Camry.  And even in a country where people have “moved toward urban centers,” cars and trucks make up an almost identical 50% each of all vehicles bought by consumers now.

So the lesson for any organization is this: are you in the truck business?  That could be a great business.  The F Series is arguably the most successful product in the auto industry.  The trouble arises when you’re only in the truck business, but you just don’t know it yet.

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