August 29, 2016
How Good Things Are Slow to Change
Five years ago this week I was debating Apple's place in the future of tablets. The iPad was roaring along with more than 60 percent of the share of tablets shipped at the time. I bought one for my wife a few months later, to help her convalesce following a hip surgery. It was an iPad 2, and it's turned out to be the equivalent of a 9x9 HP 3000. It might run forever.
My debating point in late August of 2011 was Apple would not be chased off its leadership of market share anytime soon. In 2011 nobody offered a tablet featured with apps and an infrastructure like Apple's. I heard the word "slab" to describe tablets for the first time. That label predicted that a tablet could become nothing more special than a PC. White box, commodity, biggest market share will eliminate any out-sold competitors.
The trouble with that thinking is that it's the same thing that drives the accepted wisdom about the future for datacenters still using MPE/iX and the HP 3000. Last Friday I attended a 20th work anniversary lobster boil at The Support Group for Sue Kiezel. She left her datacenter career on MANMAN systems to become a part of Terry Floyd's consulting and support company. All through those years, HP 3000 experience has remained important to her work. There's years ahead, too, years with 3000 replacements -- in their own time. Slowly, usually.
Those 20 years also track with the Newswire's lifespan. It's always a chipper afternoon when I visit the company's HQ out in the Texas oaks near Lake Travis. In addition to things like barbecue and cake -- and last Friday, lobsters large enough to crowd a deep pot--reminders of the success of the 3000 are often laying about. Last week I noticed flyers and documents outlining software from Minisoft. Not all of that software is MPE-centric products, but it is all designed for any company that still makes and ships products using a 3000-driven datacenter. Even if that datacenter is hooking up iMacs to MPE/iX, a specialty Minisoft has come to own completely. The 3000 users who remain in the market believe they have a good thing. Change comes slowly to good things, behavior which mirrors human nature.Change came slowly to the iPad's market share of shipped tablets. It took three years for the shipped-per-quarter numbers to drop below 30 percent. At one point they were below 20 percent -- this is share of units shipped, not total overall share of tablets in use. Then the iPad rallied and grabbed more sales. It was and remains a good thing to use if you need a slab computer.
Like the HP 3000s and those MPE/iX users, the tablets made by Apple are built to last longer. That iPad 2 which first sat on Abby's lap while she healed from her hip? Still working every evening here, five years later, streaming Netflix all through the night and delivering emails. Another model of tablet which captured 16 percent share that fall, from newcomer Amazon -- well, those Fires are well-extinguished now. It's not a snipe hunt to find a Fire from 2011. More like the pursuit of a heffalump.
What's similar to the tablet-slab derbies is the way the ownership shifts. People leave iPad ownership when cost of acquisition becomes the primary factor. Why pay the $400-plus when an LG or a Samsung is less than half as much? Why keep using MPE/iX when Linux can drive less costly hardware? Ownership is about much more than capital costs, whether it's an iPad or an MPE server. When the pad -- Abby just calls hers "my computer" by now -- is doing what's needed and doing a good job, then it gets to stay.
And the 3000 and MPE are helped along by companies that retain experience and expertise in products and professionals. Companies with a realistic view of the long term (things will change, but slowly) and devotion to keeping that solution running well. After eight years of using iOS mobile devices, phones and slabs, I finally got my hands on an Android tablet. ATT did the Android brand no favors by giving it to me for free, unprompted. The phrase "We're gonna give you 40 acres, and a mule" rattled in my head after the ATT business rep told me about my upgrade.
Using Android is different than iOS, but in one particular way it's as different as a mule and a Caterpillar tractor. I don't expect this modest LG G Pad to outlast an old mule. It was inexpensive, but as one owner said on the BestBuy site where you can have the tablet for 99 cents, "If you are looking for the cheapest 8-inch tablet with LTE service, this is it, but one gets what one pays for."
And sometimes you get more than what you pay for because it lasts so long. It's easy to find statistics on how much Android holds over iPad in market share. Proof that MPE/iX and its experts have a slim market share is easy to find, too. It's harder to see how many five-year-old tablets are still in everyday use. Or how many MPE-based applications are pushing into their third decade of service. Good things change slowly. That's a blessing in an era littered with tweets that announce a new world order every day.
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