Friday, August 05, 2011

Computing's calculator price collapse at last?

My worst predictions have been about the price of personal computing.

I blame it on age.

No, not on age-related dementia. I've been wrong about the price of personal computing since my brain was new. Age related experience rather.

I'm old enough that my first calculator cost the equivalent of a modern laptop, was much bigger and heavier than my MacBook Air, had no batteries, and could add, subtract, multiply and divide. My next calculator cost 1/3 the price and had many more "functions". After that the price of four function calculators went to about zero; they showed up in cereal boxes [1].

It was by far the greatest price collapse in my life. Curiously, a search didn't find any articles on the collapse of calculator pricing. Scholarship is weird.

That first monster calculator has warped my thinking ever since. The 64KB (not 64MB, not 64GB) Commodore PC I first used was cheaper than my first calculator. I expected the price to collapse. Instead the entry level price of personal computing rose quickly as Commodore and Atari left the market.

When I bought a Palm III, solid state, rugged and elegant, I expected the price to fall. After all, it was made of sand and oil; no complex moving parts. Competition would drive the market downwards I thought.

Instead the price for a PDA rose until they merged into phones (I loved my Samsung Palm flip phone) and then vanished.

Netbooks were next. I saw cheap Linux Netbooks at Target and I knew, at long last, I'd be right. They cost about as much as that first Commodore, and they had no moving parts. Price had to fall. ChromeOS was proof. By 2011 we'd be buying our kids $125 battery-free Chromebook.

Right. This month I bought my "netbook". I forked over $1100 to that fruit place.

So you'd think I'd give up.

That would underestimate my cognitive dysfunction. Surely, having lost the last five tosses, the wheel will come up black this time!

Two years ago, inspired by a Gasee post, I decided calculator style price collapse was coming in the form the $80 Android phone. Today Asymco is tracing smartphone growth. Look at the Samsung Bada phone and Android.

Even a stuck (analog) clock is right twice a day.

[1] Then the low end vanished into software, and standalone calculator became a relatively costly specialty item. Like the desktop PC.

See also:


Jennifer said...

I still miss my Palm PDAs. My calendar and contacts in once place that sync'd with my Apple laptop at home and Windows box at work. All I needed!

JGF said...

Yes, PIM management is much harder today than it was 15 years ago. I am able to make my iPhone do things even my Palm couldn't do, but it was major geekery. Indeed with MobileMe gone for now, no-one new can do contact sharing properly.

Progress in software is far from linear. Regressions are much too common.

PS. Speaking of regressions, I tried to reply to your comment on my iPhone and found a nasty Blogger bug with mobile comments.