The PC is dead, long live the PC
Ever since Steve Job’s uttered the words “Post PC”, there has been considerable debate over whether the PC is “dying”. I personally rolled my eyes at the phrase and attributed the hype around it as a product of Apple’s reality distortion field. Then in mid-2011, I bought my first tablet: a Motorola Xoom.
I did this because I wanted a replacement for my aging laptop. It was also a good way for me to dip my toe into the world of eBooks (yes I was rather late to the party). Sporting a dual core Tegra processor, the performance of the Xoom was adequate. It was enough for the work I intended it to do, i.e., send and receive emails, read the occasional book or magazine and watch a movie or two. The thing that impressed me the most however, was the battery life. Over the next couple of months I proceeded to use the hell out of the Xoom and realized I had not even touched my old laptop since the day I bought the tablet. I couldn’t help but ask myself “Was Job’s right about this one? Am I truly living in a world that does not require having a desktop anymore?”
It’s taken me over a year and two additional devices (an iPhone4 and the 2012 iPad) to come to a conclusion. The conclusion is this: The question is unfair and misleading.
See, the whole premise of the “Post PC” debate assumes that any mobile device is different from a PC. This is nonsense. A PC by definition is a “Personal Computer” nothing about the term says one needs to have a giant screen with a keyboard and mouse attached to qualify. And don’t even get me started on the rabid Apple fanboys. Apple has been using Intel chips since 2006. Their precious Macs have been no different from Windows PCs for years now. High time they got over it. While we are on the subject, what the heck is a “mobile device” anyway? I hate the term because it’s so loose and could be attributed to so many things, including laptops. If computing capability is the criteria then the picture clears somewhat. The typical smartphone today is way more powerful (in hardware terms) than the first laptop I purchased in 2001. But even the most powerful smartphone of today would not be able to do everything a 12 year old laptop could do. Doh!
I think the debate cannot and will not be settled if we keep thinking in hardware terms. The battle field is too hazy, the battle lines undefined and the opposing armies too much alike to pick a winner. The hardware is secondary to what it can do. In other words, it’s the apps that matter. A device is only as useful as the things it does not what it can do. I cannot edit videos on my iPhone. Even if the iPad catches up to my current desktop in terms of hardware, I will never use it for a game of Battlefield 2. And it will be cold day in hell before I dream about typing out an article on a touch keypad.
But I will no longer use my pen and paper notebook as my gym log. Or use a pedometer. Or a Walkman. Or a calculator. Or a flash light. Or a camera. Or… you get the idea. All those things and more, my phone can do and do well. And therein lies the answer. It is not about competition of hardware, it’s about the evolution of the term “computing”. That is the key.
With internet connectivity quickly becoming ubiquitous and cloud computing becoming more mainstream, it won’t be long before all our computing devices are interconnected at all times. Even devices and appliances that are at the moment, outside of the “computing” space, i.e., things like refrigerators, washing machines etc. are becoming “intelligent”. So I could easily use my phone as remote control of sorts, to queue up a batch of video files to be processed on my desktop, download the latest bestseller on my tablet of choice, check if my fridge is low on milk, whether my car needs refueling and so forth. This is where we are headed. Heck, it’s already begun. Call it the future, the era of the cloud, Charles Babbage’s end game or something just as tacky. Just not the “Post Pc world”.
We couldn’t be living in a post PC world because we are surrounded by PCs everywhere. Some of them just happen to be in our pockets.