About the Post-PC and PC+ Eras

July 17th, 2012

Recent reports don’t paint a very promising picture for the PC industry. Most PC companies are destined to report flat or sinking sales in the U.S. and worldwide. Apple is expected to report an uptick in Mac sales, but how much depends, as it has for a while, on overseas growth. At the same time, there will be another huge increase in iPad sales. But most of the firms that survey the PC industry don’t count a tablet as a “real” PC. At least not yet.

Now one view of this state of affairs has it that the very concept of a personal computer has expanded to include tablets and smartphones. Since you can perform many of the same functions on both desktop and mobile devices, this would seem to make sense. But it will probably take a while for industry analysts to change their ways, particularly if they depend in Microsoft or Microsoft’s OEM partners for a fair portion of their income.

No doubt the largest threat to the PC universe is the iPad. More and more people use iPads for all or most of their computing work. Yes, I understand the limitations, particularly when typing long documents, and having an accessory keyboard may not always be so convenient. But there is so much stuff you can do, that a few inconveniences may not deter many people from using the iPad whenever they can. Notice I am not referring to tablets in general. Few have shown any sales potential aside from the iPad. The one that did for a time, the Amazon Kindle Fire, was designed primarily to consume content, particularly from Amazon, and other functions were given lower priority.

Even if Apple does, as more and more mainstream journalists predict, deliver a smaller iPad, perhaps with a 7.85-inch display, it will still work the same as the full-sized iPad. Assuming a list price in the $249 to $299 range, it will no doubt gut sales of the Google Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire. It may even cannibalize sales from the regular iPad, but will, at the same time, expand the user base, particularly with people who find the regular iPad a bit too pricey. If the iPad mini or whatever it’s to be called does actually appear, it may also be a hit in education, since it will be a far easier purchase for budget-strapped school systems.

But I have to tell you that I’m still somewhat skeptical about the possibilities of the smaller iPad, although the form factor being talked about seems to make sense. With a 4:3 aspect ratio, compared to the widescreen layout on other tablets, it will deliver far more screen real estate, and be a much more sensible product to use. Again, that assumes it really happens, and that may depend on whether there is any evidence of substantial customer demand for smaller tablets, or Apple wants to head other companies off at the pass.

To Microsoft, however, it’s a PC+ era, because they imagine that everyone wants a true Windows experience, whether it’s on a smartphone, a tablet, or a traditional personal computer. It’s not that there’s any evidence that this is so. Windows Phone hasn’t exactly taken control of the smartphone market. AT&T just halved the price of the flagship Nokia Lumia 900, which doesn’t auger well for the long-term prospects.

Of course, the fact that you won’t be able to upgrade the thing to Windows Phone 8, the next major OS upgrade, because of a curious design decision by Microsoft, doesn’t help matters. You might as well regard the Lumia 900 as a closeout, similar to selling the current year’s autos at a sharp discount after the new models arrive. Only there is no Lumia 900 replacement yet, no flagship that will feature Windows Phone 8.

As far as tablets are concerned, you all know that I’m not at all convinced the Microsoft Surface will see the light of day, or even if it does, that customers will lap them up. When you look at the design, with the traditional Windows style keyboard and trackpad on the detachable cover, you come away with the impression that the Surface may be regarded as little more than a slim netbook. Don’t forget that Microsoft has demonstrated, so to speak, an ARM-based model and one that uses a regular Intel x86 processor. Of course, the latter is simply another proposed entrant in a market that has so far failed miserably.

On the larger scale, it’s not even certain that there’s much demand for Windows 8, which essentially throws the traditional Windows interface out the window; well in part at any rate. You will still be able to use existing Windows software in a slimmed Windows interface on x86 computers, shorn of the Aero flourishes that graced Windows Vista and Windows 7. But you’ll be left with a schizophrenic experience because you will have to navigate back and forth through two entirely different interfaces. Customer confusion is a given, and I can’t see why the enterprise would embrace such a misguided scheme, even though Microsoft can find a few who will agree to be quoted in promotional literature.

It seems clear Microsoft is caught in their own walled garden, one where they cannot see that their hope for “Windows Everywhere” won’t succeed. Unfortunately, there’s no exit strategy to help in case their grand scheme fails, and the walls come tumbling down.

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6 Responses to “About the Post-PC and PC+ Eras”

  1. dfs says:

    Today I went to a library to transcribe a couple of pages from a book. I took my iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard, and it was easy to copy the text into Pages (I didn’t do any formatting, so I can’t attest how easy or difficult that is with iOS Pages). Well and good. Then I came home and I needed to 1.) transfer the text to my Mac, 2.) paste the transcribed text into a document made with a page-creation app. (Dreamweaver), c.) format the text the way I wanted it and d.) add appropriate links to other pages on my site. 1.) was possible, I captured the texts and created the keystrokes I could use in later stages of the work, but the job could have gone a lot smoother. Yes, the file was available on the iCloud webpage but then I had to manually download it to my Mac. Why couldn’t it simply appear on my Mac desktop as soon as it was available on iCloud?? 2.) and 3.) were obviously impossible because a.) there is no iOS page creation software and b.) creating the links I needed entailed having multiple Web page open simultaneously, which is impossible on a tablet, and even if it were possible would require far more display space than a table could ever offer. Bottom line: I managed to do some useful field work with the iPad, and the lashup I brought to the library cost me a lot less money than a laptop would have done, but that was as far as it went. And I have experiences like this nearly every working day of my life. When it comes to doing anything remotely resembling heavy lifting, a tablet just doesn’t cut it. It’s absurd to write obituaries for the PC, they’re going to be around for a loooong time to come.

  2. jfutral says:

    Wall Street analysts are the only ones I’ve seen writing obituaries for the PC. Most blog writers that I read agree with both Jobs (who called the PC a truck, for “heavy lifting”) and Cook that the iPad is not a full on PC replacement. Apple has never positioned it as such. I’m not sure where any writer or commenter has gotten the idea that “post-PC” means “no PC”. Even Mr. Steinberg here is simply surveying the issues MS will have with Windows 8 and Surface, not the demise of desktop or laptop PCs in general.

    But long term, I do agree to a degree with the Wall Street analysts (surprising myself). When 90% of what most people use a PC for is more easily accomplished on a tablet, the result will be a PC becoming a vertical market and less a general computing device.

    While I do agree that Apple needs to bridge this gap of their software products on both devices, the work arounds are there—Google Docs, email, Drop Box, etc. Not that we WANT work arounds. But it isn’t as difficult as Apple is making it with their own software offerings.

    But the writing IS on the wall for PCs. Maybe not into extinction, but certainly no longer being the central or primary computing device. And what w can do on a tablet is only limited by what we are most familiar/comfortable with as of now. That will change. The future is not ours, it is our children’s and their children’s. Pretty soon, they will be mistaking a mouse for a microphone.


  3. Don 108 says:

    NOBODY is writing obits for PCs. By calling this a “Post PC” era it simply means that the PC is in the process of losing its primary focus. Many people can get by with a tablet alone. Others cannot.

    For me, the big change in understanding the concept of Post PC is realizing that each tech product needs a UI specific to the product. Post PC isn’t an attack on PCs (of which the Mac is one type). Rather, it is an attack on the concept of one UI (i.e., Windows) everywhere.

    Apple under Jobs and his progeny understand this. iOS is not OS X. One works for mobiles. One works for desktops/laptops. Still another works for TVs. The key, IMO, is that they have to work together. This convergence of data is happening and will become more and more transparent, especially with services such as iCloud.

    The sad failure of Microsoft is their dogged insistence that every device must use the Windows OS. The result is in a bifurcated UI for full tablets (which will have a short battery life as a result) and laptops/desktops, where part of it is redesigned, illogical nonsense and the other part, focusing on touch and using the failed Zune UI, will only confuse and anger endusers.

    What Microsoft has failed to understand is that the ONLY real success they’ve had over the last decade has been the XBox (after years of billion-dollar losses) and it has a different UI. The reason for the continued success of Windows and Office has been their illegal monopoly and wise use of massive discounts to schools, resulting in teaching Windows and Office to students, plus massive (and questionable) “gifts” to IT pros who make their living trying to fix the quirks found in Windows and Office.

    PC+ is just another name for “Windows Everywhere,” a decade-old philosophy which has failed and will continue to do so. Hey Steve Ballmer! That horse is dead. Quit beating it.

  4. Andrew says:

    The difference between a closeout phone like the Nokia and buying last-year’s model is that the car is still very likely to serve you well beyond the duration of the 5-year payment book, while the phone is unlikely to remain compatible with current software for the duration of the 2-year contract.

  5. DaveD says:

    When Steve Jobs mentioned the “post-PC” term, it was in relationship to the movement from trucks to cars. The “PC” was the “cutting the cord” from being a far-away user accessing a computer via a terminal to actually having your own miniaturized, mainframe computer in the household, your personal computer.

    The fact is trucks are still around.

    Your personal computer no longer needs to be in the house 24/7 that over time a new form developed became affordable, still not as powerful, notebook. Essentially another cutting of the cord and to take a big step forward computing has been enhanced with wireless access and the Internet, a post-PC world.

    I would be carrying my iPad (or mini?) around creating/storing/viewing contents. Then comes the time to bring in my “big iron” Mac to pick up the iPad’s contents through iCloud or (someday) AirDrop.

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