12 September 2010

Why The Digital Hub Is Still Going Strong

In a world where, every day, hundreds of millions of people use their personal computers to synchronise their iPods, organise their photo collections and upload their home movies, it might seem strange to claim that the 'digital hub' is a dead concept, but that is exactly what Ross Rubin claims in this piece for Engadget:

A decade ago at Macworld Expo, Steve Jobs provided a rare look into the vision guiding Apple. Breaking with naysayers foretelling the demise of the PC, Jobs said that the PC was now entering a third golden age of "Digital Lifestyle," following those of productivity and the Internet. In this era, the PC would serve as a digital hub. The presentation was rife with references that are amusing with a decade of hindsight ... The four reasons Jobs gave for the strength of the PC as 2001's digital hub demonstrate why it is no longer relevant in that role a decade later.

I think Ross may be blinded by the amusingly anachronistic details (clunky old phones and CD players illustrate the hi-tech "digital lifestyle") as he misses the bigger picture, which was far more prescient than he gives credit for.  

In the 2001 presentation, Jobs argued that the Mac and iMovie software made the camcorder 10 times more valuable. But a decade later, it's clear that YouTube has done far more to promote the value of personal video than iMovie, which Apple has now also brought from the desktop to the smartphone. The cloud has increased the value of portable devices by another order of magnitude beyond the PC.

The fact that YouTube became the big driver of home movie making rather than iMovie doesn't change the fundamental fact that for most of the last decade the personal computer has, just as Jobs predicted, been the hub for this type of activity. In fact, online services like YouTube, far from killing the digital hub, turned it into something much bigger and more important than we could ever have imagined. The computer isn't just a place to connect our gadgets, manage our song library and edit our movies. It has also, with the expansion of the Internet, become the place where many of us buy our music, choose our DVDs, organise our recipes, meet our friends, make new discoveries and even, with the likes of YouTube, showcase our own creativity.

The digital hub hasn't died: it has thrived, moving beyond technology enthusiasts and becoming part of everyday life for millions of people. And in the hub's first mainstream decade, the personal computer has been at the centre of it, linking users not only to our devices, but to online services that were scarcely dreamed of back in 2001. Even though smartphones have made the leash longer, they are still mostly extensions of our home computers, rather than hubs in their own right. I suspect that 2010 will come to be known as the year that the Digital Hub finally started to evolve into something far wider, something which lives beyond just the personal computer, as devices like the iPad lead a new generation of technology which simplifies the experience and makes it more portable and casual than it has ever been before. Far from being something which fizzled out, the Digital Hub will come to be seen as the vital stepping stone to an always-on, always-connected world.