The Economist ran an interesting article recently on technology in the recession, called 'Less is Moore'
. It questions the continuing relevance of Moore's Law, which boils down to the following:
The cost of a given amount of computing power falls by half roughly every 18 months; so the amount of computing power available at a particular price doubles over the same period.
The trend historically has been for consumers to spend roughly the same amounts on hardware and software while achieving ever more power and functionality. Every desktop PC, laptop and mobile phone I have bought has cost roughly the same, except now each has the power to run a major bank or the American military single-handedly. There must come a time when enough is enough.
At workshops I run for trainers, I often ask them if they have any idea what activities they could undertake on their PCs that might actually stretch their processors. They come up with things like downloading large files, displaying pictures, doing the calculations for a large spreadsheet, and so on - they are surprised to find that modern processors can do all this in their sleep. Let's face it, the only time your PC is going to be stretched is if you're manipulating audio or video (editing, compressing, decompressing, etc.) or playing 3D games. Many users never do these things.
The Economist article argues that there is an increasing trend for purchasers to look not at ever-increasing power, but at the same power for a lower price. The most visible manifestation of this is the rise of the netbook - essentially a small, low-cost laptop. They are comparable to normal laptops from 2-3 years ago but at perhaps a third of the price. Twenty-one million will be sold this year according to IDC.
The same applies to software as a service. The functionality of online applications rarely compares with desktop equivalents, but the costs are likely to be much lower.
So is less more now when it comes to hardware and software? At one level it might depend on your emotional reaction to technology. Like many people, I lust after the best cameras, computers, cars and software applications, and generally speaking I can resist anything except temptation. I can't see this situation changing unless I go completely broke.
Thinking more rationally than emotionally, many purchasers really don't need all that power - a netbook and a few simple, inexpensive (more likely free) online applications will suffice. Some will be forced to adopt this path, even though power and functionality would help them, because they are working within a tight budget.
And we're not really comparing apples with apples here. Small, low-cost devices and simple online tools are above all practical - you can have them with you wherever you are. You may even, as I do, work with both. I carry a cheap Casio compact camera in my pocket for quick snaps and opportunistic videos, but I have the real kit at home to use when my primary purpose is to do something creative.
So, like many things, it probably all comes down to the situation. I need powerful computers, because I do work with audio, video and 3D. I need powerful apps like the new Adobe eLearning Suite
, because however much I believe in rapid and user-generated content that is 'good enough' and 'quick and dirty,' I also believe in the importance of the top-end - really excellent work, created by professionals using the best of tools.