What Do You Do with Your Personal Computer?

December 2nd, 2011

I started using Macs in the 1980s not for recreation, but to get work done. I was involved in writing and desktop publishing. The latter had just debuted on the Mac; I was using them at the office, and needed to bring work home from time to time; I traveled with a regular supply of floppies and other material in a briefcase. It wasn’t long before I stayed home and did everything from a room that I converted into an office. Only later did I find reason to perform more relaxing functions on that Mac, particularly when I got a note-book to bring into the bedroom each evening.

These days, an iPhone sits on my night table, and I use it to surf and keep track of my heavy email load, answering messages that can’t wait till my regular workday begins.

At the same time, my wife has embraced an iPad 2 with a passion. She never cared much for my regular Macs, and would only spend brief periods of time surfing, or checking email for me. But always grudgingly; she had better things to do. But when I received an iPad for review, she asked to spend a little time with one, after I gave her a few pointers. Although she continues to ask questions from time to time, she’s figured out most everything for herself without resorting to online references or manuals. That’s the genius in Apple’s iOS design.

Nowadays, you cannot take that thing away from her without asking nicely, and only for a brief time. An iPad is her essential tool for research, the rare email message, and watching an occasional video or listening to music.

A long-time client of mine, who used to market self-help books, these days surfs and checks email on an aging Mac mini. He has a new one in his sights with the hope of an after-Christmas discount, but I have to wonder whether the iPad would suit him, assuming he could become accustomed to typing on a touchscreen, or dealing with an accessory keyboard. But he still has stuff on his Mac that just won’t transfer conveniently, so maybe not.

Another client has worked as a consultant for public schools for many years. Though long past retirement age, he still writes reports in Microsoft Word. There is no way to transfer that workflow to an iPad, even if Microsoft, as is now rumored, opts to build an iOS version of Office in 2012.

Now the argument against using a tablet as a PC is that it’s mainly a consumption device. I suppose if you consider an Amazon Kindle Fire, you’d be right. It’s a loss leader designed to sell e-books, stream videos and books, and maybe play some games. It is reportedly less suited towards magazine reading, and not at all suited towards engaging in any productive work.

At the same time, the iPad is actually being deployed as a substitute for the traditional note-book for many employees. For a number of PC-related chores, the iPad is a worthy substitute. You can write short messages on it, do research, process orders, manage inventory, and even link to an online data center to record critical information. School systems are considering iPads as replacements for traditional textbooks. Certainly any student who struggles from home to school and back again overwhelmed with a heavy backpack stuffed with textbooks would appreciate having all those books in electronic form. Indeed, they could get instant updates, do homework that doesn’t require heavy amounts of writing, and submit the material to teachers. At least there wouldn’t be as many excuses about leaving the note-book with the completed homework assignments at home, because if a child leaves the iPad at home, they can be outfitted with a replacement unit that has also synced the same material from the cloud. So that completed homework assignment better be there!

So in some respects, an iPad may actually be superior to a Mac or a PC.

At the same time, if most people can use an iPad for many chores formerly the province of a traditional PC, it  hardly makes sense for industry analysts or those taking and publishing retail sales surveys not to consider an iPad in the same category. Certainly Microsoft should agree, since they promise to make Windows 8 work on both a PC and a tablet. To them, they are one and the same.

Indeed, HP’s current CEO, Meg Whitman, has already admitted that Apple stands to be crowned the number one PC maker on the planet in 2012, ahead of HP, in large part because she expects the iPad to be included in the overall sales figures.

Why should it be otherwise? Where is it written that a PC must have a physical keyboard? Besides, you can add one to your iPad if you choose, which makes that difference vanish? A mouse? Well, don’t forget that it was once believed, before the Mac and Windows came to be, that a real computer only required a keyboard. A mouse was a plaything, and maybe many will regard the iPad and competing tablets as playthings too. But, in their heart of hearts, they surely know better.

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3 Responses to “What Do You Do with Your Personal Computer?”

  1. DaveD says:

    Probably up to 90% of what I do on my Mac can be done on an iPad. So, my Mac is primarily a “consumption device.” Will I ever get an iPad? Someday whenever the iPad 5 or 6 is announced, I would consider it. I enjoy using my Macs and it is great to turn on the horsepower when needed.

    I dabbled in “microcomputer” in the late seventies and early eighties with my CP/M-based Zilog Z-80 platform learning 8080 assembly and BDS “C.” Back then, Microsoft was a computer language software company. I recalled an “a-ha!” moment holding a Byte magazine with Apple Computer’s Lisa on the cover displaying the new graphical user interface.

    A revelation of the future of computing. Several more years down the road came the World Wide Web, another revelation.

  2. dfs says:

    Well, I have an iMac and an iPad. The iPad is great for being on the road, and I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime I pick up a copy of Pages and a Bluetooth keyboard and do a little light text entry on it in situations where I might otherwise find I needed a cheap netbook. But I also operate a very complex website featuring all sorts of nested folders, and let’s look at some of the stuff I need to get my job done. First and foremost, my major workhorse is my faithful albeit quirky Dreamweaver and sometimes I have three, four, or even more windows open at once, cutting and pasting material between them and creating hyperlinks. And having all these windows of course means I need a huge amount of screen space. Usually my 27-in. iMac suffices, but I have an old 24-in. cinema display on which I can lay off extra windows or run auxiliary software. Occasionally I have to do large global search-and-replace operations. Dreamweaver chokes on them, so I use Text Wrangler instead. Then too, of course, I need a FTP client so I can remotely manage the server on which my site exists. In connection with the site I also need software to do some lightweight manipulation of graphics. I also routinely need a VPN connection to tunnel into my local university library to access their electronic resources. Said resources are often PDF files which I download and store on my hard disk. So I need a PDF reader (Preview). I also have a large textual data base distributed on CD-ROM (from which I made a disk image) and I need to access this with specialized a GREP-type search tool. This is only a part of the inventory of my necessary professional toolbox. If I edited sound or video, I’m sure I’d have an equally long list. Ditto if I used my Mac to write my own software. And so forth and so on. I’m sure by now you get the point. A tablet is fine if you are pretty much a passive content-consumer or at most a very low-level content-producer indeed. For anything more than that a tablet would be utterly and completely impossible. Which is precisely what Steve meant when he compared PC’s to trucks. Not everybody on the road needs a truck, a family sedan does just fine and is a lot cheaper and more practical to operate. But some people of course do, and in fact it’s impossible to imagine a world without trucks. Among other things, you need trucks to move around the parts out of which the family sedans are made, transport them to the dealerships, and retrieve them when they break down on the road. As long as there are content-producers, there’s going to be a need for PC’s. And since the entire electronics industry feeds off content-producers, it will always be in the industry’s own economic self-interest to keep them available.

  3. ccllyyddee says:

    I thought of the iPad as a very nice toy when it first came out. Then, I was waiting (interminably) in the Social Security Office. A woman sat down near me and started stroking and poking her iPad. I asked her about it, and she said that it was invaluable in her work a grade school teacher. In this case she had scanned a class’ theme papers in it and she was reviewing the papers while waiting. She said that she never did this with her laptop because it just wasn’t convenient. Then, a new Verizon store opened in our little rural burg. Seems they couldn’t keep up with the demand for them. There were in heavy use in all the pickup trucks with making field reports, etc.

    I want one, for play and for more serious stuff.

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