Steve Jobs has declared the era of the PC over during the Apple iPad 2 launch. We are now, apparently living in the Post PC era. It is important to understand what Mr. Jobs means by the PC. Mr. Job's said PC's will become like trucks. Useful for certain tasks, but not for the general market. By PC is meant the x86 personal computer running Windows, Linux and even Apple's own Mac OSX operating system. Tablets and mobile phones are actually personal computers. What Mr. Job's is really saying is that it is the end of the Wintel domination.
Steve Job's latest creation, the iPad 2
After reflecting on this on and off for the past few weeks, it donned on me, by gosh, Jobs is right. I really cannot speak for the industry or even a class of consumers, but just for myself. I want to take you back fifteen years. I had just finished college and took my first full time job. Back than, I used personal computers at home and at work. There was nothing very “personal” about the PC at home. Our home PC was a shared device which really just served a modern day typewriter. Weeks might go by without me using it. At work I would use a PC to access data stored on local hard drives, and I could type documents on them too. I really did not have to type though, I had a secretary to do that, and we actually had a pool of encoders, a “typing pool”, at work for longer documents. If we go back fifteen years, PC were like trucks, at least to me. My need to a PC was limited to the demands of work.
I had a cellular phone back than too, which really did nothing other than allow you to make calls. That was a more personal gadget which I took with me everywhere I went. It truth, I wanted one more than I really needed one. It was really just cool toy to flash around. Dragging a phone around with me was cool. I would not have wanted to drag a laptop around with me.
Two years would change everything. From a type writer it had morphed into a portal to the World Wide Web. I got a 60-hour dial connection, and my very first own PC. Back than there was no Wikipedia or You Tube. I have no even heard about Google and used to do searches out of a search engine called Alta Vista. Back we did have email, forums and ICQ (an instant messenger), and the world became a much smaller place overnight. In an odd way, the PC was important to me not because of its ability to crunch data, but as a communications device.
In 2001, I went on my own. Personal computers allowed a small business to exist where previously, only large organizations could be competitive. For both work, and for entertainment, I was now dependent on the personal computer and the Internet. I got my first portable computer, two years later in 2003. It was a HTC Tanager powered by Windows Smartphone 2002. Back than I really did not think of this device as a pocket computer, but more of a personal data assistant.
In 2005, with laptop prices having gone down, I retired my last desktop and my PC went mobile. A laptop kept me connected to the Internet, between a fixed cable connection at home, and WiFi hotspots in the field, on demand 24/7. These are what I like to call the ball and chain years. Each year since 2005, I have been acquiring lighter and lighter devices, and my original six pound ball and chain went down to less than three pounds by the end of 2008.
Accompanying my laptop was a smartphone, but ultimately, when it came to expenditure, from 1998 until 2010, the personal computer was the item that I would devote the largest budget too. The smartphone was fine for as long as it could make calls, send and receive SMS and keep track of your schedule. The PC took care of everything else. But in the end, it was really something I wanted to get rid off. Either you have a desktop or large laptop which you have to go to when you want to send and email or check some information on something, or you have a three pound device on a shoulder bag or back-pack or tucked under your arm the whole day.
I realized, that 2010 is the last year that the PC takes up the largest portion of my gadget budget. The core function has not really changed much in the past decade I have owned a PC. Between Windows 95 and Windows 7, there really is no revolutionary functionality. I upgraded operating systems in search of stability. I upgraded hardware, to keep up with ever more demanding operating systems. But in the end, my current laptop does pretty much the same thing as my desktop in 1998. PC technology for all the advances in speed and capacity, has pretty much remained stagnant. To the point now, that I am willing to let it become a truck again. I paid for faster, because it was a slow inefficient device, and I paid for lighter to reduce the burden of this self-imposed ball and chain.
Steve Job's was referring to the advent of the tablet, or more particularly the Apple iPad when he announced the end of the PC era. Converting my laptop in to a iPad, does not necessarily seem like an interesting prospect to me. It really is just a smaller laptop, without a keyboard. And it won't replace your mobile phone either. In many ways, the iPad is a distraction from where the industry is headed.
It is the smartphone that will end the era of the PC. I still go back to a PC to type things like this article. Or to attach documents to emails. The PC is a productivity tool, and that is the only reason I still need it. The PC is still the favorite accessory of my Digital Camera, but even that is getting less use these days. Yes, there are those who need a true workstation for serious crunching, but for the rest of us, the era of the PC is truly coming to an end.
Instead of browsing the web to visit my favorite haunts, I use Twitter to direct me to articles of interest to me. That are a whole bunch of Apps and services that are focused on "correcting" a lot of the deficiencies of the smartphone as a web browsing device. Communications whether the traditional voice and text, or the computer based emal, instant messaging or social networking, now is the province of my smartphone. Photographs are taken by my smartphone, cropped and enhanced by the same device, and are sent up into the cloud, all from one device.
The Web now belongs to my smartphone
In fifteen years, the personal has gone from being a typewriter, to going back to being a typewriter. I do not yet see myself ever not owning a laptop. But you will not see me paying for Intel fastest processor, or Microsoft's latest operating system. My MacBook Air, is the last of its kind. When it is time to replace my expensive little laptop, it will be replaced by a low cost functional laptop. If it can run a word processor and can be used to blog, it will do fine. I am not willing to pay for lighter or faster anymore. The cheaper the better.
The web, which made the personal computer so important to me now belongs to the smartphone. This is where my gadget budget is going to now. How much? Show me what it can do. There are really no fixed limits. The smartphone is now the most important gadget. Give me a plug in keyboard and let me plug it into a LCD TV or portable LCD screen, and I may finally retire laptop, the same way I did the desktop, six years ago. The smartphone will rule. Tablets? Their true future is as a smartphone accessory.
The PC has gone back to being a truck.
The ironic thing is that, this is now a truck
for an Android device. But Apple iOS devices still need the truck.