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Post-PC?

The latest catch-phrase from Apple seems to be that they (and therefore the rest of us too) are entering the “Post-PC” era. The iPod, iPhone and iPad all represent post-PC devices according to Steve Jobs. But not everyone agrees. I saw an article by Stephen Shankland at the CNet web site titled “Tablets are the ‘post-PC era’? I beg to differ” where we rejected that claim.

I don’t have a lot of respect for CNet as a review and opinion site. It’s reviews are often superficial and more designed for entertainment rather than information. But that criticism could apply to many other sites and I still like to collect opinions from as wide a range of sources as possible so it is still useful to evaluate the claim independently of its source.

So are we entering a post-PC era? It obviously depends on how you define a PC. The term means personal computer and the iPad is clearly very personal and is a type of computer so by that definition it is a PC and therefore doesn’t represent the beginning of a new era.

But I don’t think that’s really what Apple is trying to say. I think they are saying we are leaving the era of big, heavy, hard to use, insecure, difficult to maintain, general purpose computing devices and entering an era of small, light, cheap, specialised, extremely easy to use devices such as the iPad.

The writer at CNet claimed he could see the time in the future where tablets, like the iPad, became more like laptop computers by adding ports, external input and output devices, and extra weight and complexity. I don’t agree. That’s basically what the PC manufacturers already tried and failed with. The iPad was designed from the very beginning not to be just a small, cheap portable PC. If anyone tries to go back to the old model they are likely to fail.

On the other hand, Apple have got a bit of work to do before we really reach a new era free from PCs. Ironically it takes a Mac or PC to setup and maintain an iPad, iPhone or iPod anyway so owners of those devices are hardly freeing themselves from their PCs!

Of course that won’t last forever. Surely the next major update of iOS will provide these operations directly from the device, possibly through the use of Apple cloud facilities, such as those being currently created at their huge new data center.

I often write these blog entries on my iPad but this one is being written on my MacBook Pro, so clearly I’m not fully in the post-PC era myself. And I can’t see that happening in the near future. The iPad is great and I think it is a post-PC device but there will be a place for conventional PCs (I use that word generically so Macs are just as relevant) for a long time to come. An analogy I often see is that PCs will be like trucks and tablets will be like compact cars: there is a need for both, but most people only need the car.

So yes, I think the post-PC idea is true and the iPad is the first serious post-PC device (I don’t count the iPod or iPhone in that category because they aren’t real computer substitutes) so the counter-argument from the CNet contributor doesn’t really make sense.

Apple never really quite beat Microsoft by making computers (I mean “beat” in terms of numbers because Apple computers are far better than PCs in quality and user experience) but in the post-PC era which they are creating that might not matter any more. Microsoft, HP, Dell, and all the others will just lose relevance. Only Google gets it and they are also playing catch-up with Apple.

I will continue to enjoy using my iPad like I would enjoy driving a compact car but I also want my big, powerful luxury car (I refuse to call something as beautiful as a MacBook Pro a truck) because, for me, it also has a place.

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