It’s A Tractor

We hear a lot about how computing is changing and Steve Jobs himself used the car vs. truck analogy when speaking about the new mobile-centric devices vs. general-purpose computing devices at the D8 conference in 2010. John Paczkowski has a follow-up, now three years later, to that statement by Jobs.

I think that analogy is a little weak, however. Too many people drive trucks even when they don’t need to.

Being a farm kid, I’ve come to think of the differences more in-line with car vs. tractor. You will not find many people driving or even owning tractors unless they have an explicit purpose for them. Here is how it works in my mind:

  • You CAN do everything you can with a car with a tractor. You can drive places. Haul things. Move from place to place … but you are handicapping yourself in some way and adding a lot of complexity to get things done. This is the weakest part of my change in analogy.
  • There are things you CANNOT do with a car that you need to be able to accomplish with a tractor. I would love to see someone pull  ripper through a freshly harvested field with their car (any car). A tractor is set up to be able to do this thing explicitly.
  • Different types of tractors are purpose-built for certain jobs. The largest of the articulated four-wheel-drive tractors is meant almost exclusively for tillage. I’d think those are more in-line with the Mac Pro of today. The more general-purpose tractors are along the lines of the iMac or MacBooks available now (using Apple-centric ideas).

The thought is that the line is being ever-more-thickly drawn between what we thought of computers even two or three years ago and the newer, mobile-centric devices we are seeing permeate the populace. This was brought into focus into my mind when reading the AnandTech review of the 2013 Mac Pro. Here is the closing line to the review (and you should read the whole thing):

If you have a workload that justifies it and prefer OS X, the Mac Pro is thankfully no longer just your only solution, it’s a great solution.

Woven throughout the entire piece is the idea that the Mac Pro has been created and tuned for very specific needs, a very specific purpose, and with very specific workloads in mind (highly parallel, makes use of GPU acceleration, etc.). I have the feeling we are going to be seeing more and more “compromises” made to target specific types of workloads because that is the way to get big gains in some areas.

The general purpose computer will continue to move to iPad-like devices where what we used to consider general purpose computers move into more specialized roles. Because of this, I’m not going to hold my breath on an iPad version of Xcode.

In this new world, developers, editors, etc. are farmers … so they need a tractor to get their work done. Apple is planning on providing tractors to those who need them and cars and trucks to everyone else as well.

Both are important, but you need to keep the distinction in mind.