From Shared to Personal to… →

Ben Brooks on how Amazon and Microsoft are pushing products that bring back the old paradigm of computing devices that are meant to be shared by multiple people (instead of personal devices like phones that only one person primarily uses)1:

The current state of computing seemingly runs counter to the notion of shared computing. Our devices, at current, are highly personal devices and often shared only as a last resort. I think a good case could be made that even in a life and death situation a not insignificant amount of people would not share their phone passcode.

And now Amazon and Microsoft want us to loop back to a shared device? That seems unlikely. Would you rather share your iMac, or your iOS device, even if the iOS device had multi-user support, you’d likely share your iMac first. The reason for this is because the iMac feels like a less personal device and devices in general have become highly personal the more you diverge from a traditional desktop.

In fact, I have a quick test to determine if a device is meant to be highly personal or not: If the device comes in colors, it’s meant to be personal. iPhones, iPads, MacBooks — all things you would be reluctant to hand over to a stranger to use for even a moment — even reluctant to let a good friend or family member use. But a home phone? An desktop computer? Yeah sure, why the fuck not. Whatever.

And I don’t see that trend reversing either.

I think that his color test is a little off. I would propose that a more correct test would be: if I device is portable, it is meant to be shared. Currently, at least for Apple products, those two lists are pretty much the same.

  • Personal: iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, MacBook
  • Shared: Apple TV, iMac, Apple Home (a.k.a. Siri Speaker)

He then goes on to talk about how the idea of sharing products does not really fit into Apple’s business model.

For Apple’s part, they want to sell you stuff. As much stuff as possible, so shared anything is bad for Apple. Buy more stuff, not fewer things. So colors are not only a way of getting people to buy more things, but making the devices feel like they cannot be shared.

For devices meant to be used around the house, being able to effectively share them across the house will not limit sales (the exception being desktop Macs). For devices like the hypothetical Apple Home and the Apple TV, being able to share them will lead to more sales.

I would put an Apple TV on every TV in the house if I knew that everyone in the family could access their content on any of them2.

I would put Apple Homes all over the house if everyone in the house could use them with their content.

I am not arguing that every device needs to have multiple user support3, but any device that is primarily meant to be used around the house needs to have it to be competitive. I am tired of seeing Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger on my Apple TV’s Up Next queue next to Better Call Saul and Westworld.

  1. I would add Google to this list. The day before he wrote his piece, Google announced that their Google Home smart speaker is gaining the ability to tell who is speaking to it and do different things based on that information. 
  2. This is a bad example for me because we only have one TV in the house, but you get the idea. 
  3. There is a good case to make that the iPad should get it simply to be more compatible in schools.