Date: February 12, 1998
Donald Norman — Appliance Design Center, Consumer Products Group Hewlett-Packard

Why the PC is so complex, Why it can’t be changed and Why Information Appliances are the Solution

Thomas Edison was a great inventor, but a crappy businessman. Consider the phonograph. Edison was first (he invented it), he had the best technology, and he did a brilliant, logical analysis of the business. As a result, he built a technology-centered phonograph that failed to take into account his customer’s needs. In the end, his several companies proved irrelevant and bankrupt.

Sound familiar? That’s today’s PC business. There are even more parallels. Speak of ease of use: It was judged to be too complicated for office use. The early phonograph took about two weeks to master, if you were willing to persevere. Today’s computers take even longer. In general, whether it is the phonograph or the computer, the technology is the easy part. The difficult parts are social, organizational and cultural.

Note that the phonograph went through a number of major revolutions in its lifetime. Cylinders. Disks. Acoustical, electrical. When the radio came out, it almost killed the phonograph business. 78 RPM to 33 1/3 and 45 RPM. Cassette tapes. CDs, mini-discs. DVD, And so on. If you compare the computer industry to the phonograph one, we are still producing 78 RPM shellac discs.

The PC is like that first phonograph. Too complicated, the wrong business model, and a growing source of frustration to those who are forced use it. It is time for the third generation of the PC, the one where they disappear from sight, invisibly incorporated into information appliances.

This talk addresses the changes we might expect to see in the information technology world. And the process by which they might come about.

Powell’s Books will be present with Don’s book and other great user-interface texts for you to buy.