There’s already a non-PC market for specialised devices that play games. It’s still true that a high-end PC with a fast processor and graphics card, keyboard and mouse is a better games machine than a console, but it’s also much more expensive and harder to maintain. Even people who own PCs often buy games consoles such as the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360, partly because they provide a more communal experience.
And we’ve already seen at least one new device come in and create a new market segment: the Nintendo Game Boy did it in the 1980s. Nintendo has faced a number of challenges over the years, most recently from the Sony PSP, but it still dominates the market.
This augurs well for the iPad because, as a concept, it’s very similar to a portable games console, and Apple controls the platform in much the same way as Sony and Nintendo control their platforms. Indeed, some people already see the iPod touch as competition for handheld games consoles, and the difference between that and an iPad has more to do with screen size than anything else.
The big question is whether these more specialised devices will eventually replace PCs, or enhance the PC market?
The whole point of the PC was that it was a programmable, multifunction device: it could do anything from playing music to controlling a nuclear power station. But now chips are cheap, people might prefer to buy a dozen specialised devices instead of one or two general-purpose devices. Your 'personal computers' may already include desktop and laptop PCs, a games console, an MP3 player, an eBook reader, a smartphone, a PVR and a set-top box. Internet-connected DAB radios, TV sets and even cameras are now turning into computers as well.
Some people see this leading to a 'Post PC' world, because most people don’t really want a PC; they just want what a PC does. If they can play games on an Xbox, surf the web on an iPad etc, they won’t need a PC at all.
Others see it leading to a 'PC Plus' world, because many specialised devices become more useful if you can plug them into a PC for processing, storing and serving up files. In fact, you can’t get very far with an iPad unless you can plug it into a PC running iTunes.
This, of course, is why the Internet is such a threat. So far, the Web has been terrific for persuading more and more people to buy PCs. However, if 'cloud computing' becomes a reliable alternative, most users might be able to plug all their devices into the Net instead.