The death of the computer chain store

I heard on the radio a couple days ago that CompUSA is going out of business. It’s been sold to a private equity company, and the plan is its stores will be gradually liquidated. This is not the end of the computer retail chain as a fixture in our society. Now there are Apple stores, but they’re really the only ones left. The main reason these exist though is because of the iPod and iPhone. MacBooks have been selling well, but I think the sales and profits of the iPod and its successors make the computer sales pale by comparison.

This isn’t to say that you can’t buy a PC at a store after CompUSA goes away, or that you’ll only be able to buy a Mac. You can still get PCs at Circuit City and Best Buy. PCs today are becoming media devices–consumer electronics. CompUSA tried to compete with these retailers by introducing consumer electronics into their stores, but I guess they weren’t as good at it. They were good for buying some electronics though. I bought a decent Canon digital camera from CompUSA for a really good price last year.

If you still want a techie/power user PC I’d recommend a mom and pop store. I think They’re still around. Or, get one at Dell or HP (mail order).

The PC business is definitely going through a transition. Somehow I think the future of the PC is your mobile phone…or maybe your TV. It will practically disappear. In some ways this makes sense, but until the I/O interface is figured out so that people can actually use it in a sophisticated way the prospect makes me cringe.

What was the PC revolution for, anyway? Was it just a way to digitize analog media?

This has been a question in the industry for a long time. In one of my previous posts I embedded a vintage episode of The Computer Chronicles on the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga. In it Gary Kildall made the comment that after buying 8-bit computers, “People have gone back to their VCRs”, and computer companies were needing something new to attract those customers back. Even then people saw computers as “media devices”, but it was more obvious they were something different from a phone or a TV. They were something you attached to a TV or monitor. What’s going on now is the maturation of the technology. Different media are being integrated together. It’ll be interactive, but centrally controlled. I suppose most people are looking forward to this future, but I’m not. Computing can be more than this if people have the vision to make it so.

—Mark Miller,