The Era of Personal Computing Is Getting More and More Personal

We're in the middle of a 50-year journey. The first 25 years were spent bringing computing to business customers. The next 25 years will be about bringing computing to the masses.

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Believe it or not, computing is getting more and more personal. HP had a great “the computer is personal again” marketing slogan a while back and, as much as I liked that campaign, the bottom line is that computing has never been more personal than it is today.

And it’s not being driven by the traditional PC. It’s being driven by the smartphone. In our industry reports, I’ve been referring to the phase we’re in now as the era of true handheld computing.

We have danced around this reality before. In fact, I’d argue that in the early days of the Palm Pilot and subsequent Palm devices, the third-party developer community began embracing this computing reality and creating incredible software for Palm-based PDAs. However, this was the pre-cursor to the true handheld computing era we are in today.

The Value of Software

In the era of handheld computing, the value extends beyond the hardware and into the software. We are seeing this today with the unprecedented adoption rate of mobile software. Nothing, in fact, showcases this more than iOS 7 in the market today.

We are witnessing an unprecedented event in the history of computing. The transition from iOS 6 to iOS 7 is on pace to become the fastest operating system transition ever. As I reflect on this, it brings to light some very interesting observations.

The first, which is perhaps the most interesting, is the value iPhone users associate with iOS.

With no other platform, mobile or otherwise, do you see this level of demand on the day an operating system upgrade becomes available. iPhone customers value iOS.

In the desktop era it has been decades, if ever, since we have seen this kind of interest in an operating system. And certainly, we have never seen it in the market for a mobile operating system. All of this and more showcases this true era we are in, where computing is becoming more personal than ever.

Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough

In this era of truly personal computing, I’ve come to realize that the cheap, good-enough products will not be good enough. In fact, it is this reality of highly personal and intimate handheld computing that makes me disagree with low-end disruption theory.

It is believed that in many markets, low-cost “good-enough” products will challenge the more premium products in the marketplace and then eventually become the standard. The basic theory goes that lower-priced products in the smartphone and tablet categories will become good enough and people will not pay more for premium version of them.

This view has a weak understanding of consumer markets. Low-end disruption is valid in many cases, but it is not valid when the choice driving a product is personal and intimate in nature. When a product becomes personal and intimate, good enough is not good enough. Consumers want the best product for their needs, and cheap is not always the best choice.

Personal Computing Supports Consumer Choice

Due to its personal nature, this market will support a wide variety of choices. In fact, not only will smartphones will prove this true, but so will wearable computing. We will see a wide variety of wearable devices all focused on providing specific value propositions for segments of the market that value them.

We like to talk to about things like smartwatches, but the reality is that there will not be a one-size-fits-all solution in this era of personal computing. It will be highly fragmented with all kinds of products designed to appeal to certain segments of customers.

Innovation Is Far from Over

The last thing that strikes me about this era is that innovation is far from over. Those who believe the tech industry has innovated all it can don’t understand how innovation cycles work. Expecting leaps of innovation annually is unrealistic. Innovation comes in cycles, and extremely long ones at that. When a new innovation emerges, it is followed by many years of evolving before it’s adopted by the mass market.

We are currently in a cycle with new categories like smartphones and tablets where we are evolving their basic value propositions to drive their adoption throughout the mass market. Believe it or not, we are still in the early stages of this cycle.

This is why when Apple and other companies release more evolutionary products, we should not be surprised. We should instead understand that many millions of consumers still need to get their hands on these products and realize their value at a personal level.

In my firm’s presentations to the industry at events or at executive briefings, we emphasize that we are in the middle of a 50-year journey. The first 25 years were spent bringing computing to business customers. The next 25 years will be about brining computing to the masses. Over this period, we will see computing become even more personal than it is today and it will be driven by handheld computers like smartphones and tablets.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week on TIME Tech.