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  • What Will You Do When You Want to Replace Your Computer?

    February 7th, 2012

    As you’ve no doubt heard, the PC industry is in the doldrums these days, mostly with the exception of Apple of course. Sales are flat or declining, and more and more people have decided that they don’t need to replace that old computer after all. A smartphone, a tablet, or both, are perfectly suited to their needs.

    Certainly Apple knows this, continuing to refer to the iPad as a “Post PC” product, telling one and all that the PC era is yesterday’s news, although it’ll be years before you can say the PC era is over and done with. Even then, there will be many power users and business customers who will insist on a traditional PC, be it Mac or Windows.

    Certainly Microsoft is fully aware that they cannot continue to depend on PC OS and office software to fuel the majority of their revenue. But they haven’t done so well with their mobile OS and similar products. Their latest gambit is to make a version of Windows 8 for ARM-based processors, although traditional PC apps probably won’t be compatible. This is the sort of situation that Apple confronted twice, first when going to PowerPC and, second, to Intel. In each case, Apple devised a translation layer to convert software supporting the old processor so those apps would run with decent performance on the new processor. At the same time, developers were given paths to upgrading their apps, most recently with a “Universal” feature in Apple’s Xcode that lets your apps run on both PowerPC and Intel. These days, most software is strictly Intel only, to take advantage of 64-bit and other key OS features.

    In any case, if Microsoft hopes to make Windows apps work on regular PCs, and ARM-based tablets, they’d have to devise a similar strategy. Or expect developers to build Web apps for both, which won’t be the most efficient route to take by a long shot.

    But the key question here is, when your computer is no longer suiting your needs, do you just buy the latest model, switch from Windows to the Mac, or look for another solution? A similar question is posed in the March 2012 issue of Macworld, where the cover bears this headline: “Is the iPad Ready to Replace Your Laptop?” The conclusion in Dan Moren’s article on the subject seems to be that it depends. Now since I’ve been working on Macs since the 1980s — with occasional forays into the Windows world — you might expect that I would prefer to continue to use Macs as well.

    In large part, that’s true. I cannot see any iPad-based solution, for example, for doing post-production on my radio shows. Most of that work is accomplished in Bias Peak Pro 7, although I also do some editing in Amadeus Pro 2.0.5. Audio interviews via Skype are captured courtesy of Ambrosia’s WireTap Studio 1.2.0 and Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro 2.10.1. Although there are useful audio apps for the iOS, such as GarageBand, I am not able to produce the same results in as efficient a fashion. I also have to upload the completed files to the GCN network, which would still require use of my Mac. An iOS solution to accomplish similar goals would not be effective.

    This doesn’t mean I won’t be able to eventually move my workflow to an iPad; the tiny screen of an iPhone just wouldn’t work. Over time, I do grant that there will be iOS-based audio apps that will allow me to migrate my workflow and, perhaps, make it more efficient. If I could accomplish the same tasks at similar or better production levels on a $499 iPad as I can today on a two grand iMac, great.

    But forget about writing articles of this sort on an iPhone or iPad. Perhaps the latter with a physical keyboard, but I might just as well switch to my MacBook Pro and have all the capabilities I need in one box, rather than engage in a clumsy setup of an iPad and a physical keyboard. Yes, I know people do it, but I am not one of those people, at least not yet. Maybe if I get used to some sort of dictation scheme, or maybe I’ll just be too old to care when people stop buying Macs and PCs.

    However, I can see where many of you are able to use an iPad to fulfill all your computing needs. My wife is one example. She never took to a Mac, and used it grudgingly. But the iPad she embraced with a passion. She doesn’t write long letters, but manages to peck out short notes on the virtual keyboard, and the remainder of her computing needs are well served by the iOS versions of Mail, Safari, and a few other apps.

    Now Barbara is not alone. I know of many others for whom an iPad is all the computer they need, and this is certainly demonstrated in Apple’s most recent financials. Many iPad sales came from PC users who gave up on the traditional computer, a smaller number were Mac users. If Apple can continue to leapfrog the industry with future versions of the iPad, more and more PC users will switch. Sure, there may be other tablets — I regard the Amazon Kindle Fire as a more limited purpose gadget — that will become functionally competitive with the iPad. That will only speed the trend.

    Certainly I don’t presume to be able to tell you what sort of computer to purchase when you upgrade. But it’s pretty clear where the market is going, and quite clear that Microsoft must be in a state of total panic if they’ve yet grasped the reality of the situation.



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