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The Post-PC Debate: Apple vs Microsoft… And Pop-Tarts and Hovercrafts.

July 16, 2012

Here are some articles that I found irritating:
http://www.cio.com/article/710083/Tablets_Will_Outship_Notebooks_By_2016_Research_Firm_Says
http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/12/07/12/microsoft_says_apples_post_pc_view_is_wrong_claims_its_a_pc_era.html

Don’t worry about reading them – I’ll give you the gist of them and why they bothered me. Bear with me.

The first talks about research that states tablets will outship notebooks by 2016. The second talks about Microsoft’s hit-back at Apple for trying to coin the phrase ‘the Post-PC era’ with their own phrase; ‘the PC+ era’.

There are many, many more articles and blogs and tweets and interviews where various tech pundits are saying all sorts of things in a similar vain as what’s in these articles. These that I have referenced are merely examples that I have come across – so I’m not specifically singling them out for any other reason.

/end disclaimer

So why do they bother me?

The first article reports on some ground-breaking research data that has determined that tablets will outsell laptops in the future.

Well, duh.

Tablets are relatively inexpensive, portable and exciting devices. Everyone wants one. Some people even have a legitimate use case for why they need one.

But what really bothers me in this article is the question it poses to it’s readers – “do you see yourself replacing your laptop with a tablet in the not-too-distant future?”

If anyone answered ‘yes’ to that for a reason other than ‘I haven’t used my laptop in two years and get by with just my iPhone (or equivalent) these days’, then they are in for a surprise.

Tablets are not laptops. They are designed to meet different needs.
You wouldn’t replace your car with a boat… but you might have both.

This brings me to the second article.
This notion that we are entering into a post-PC era has been thrown around a lot lately, but I am yet to hear a satisfactory definition of what that really is.

What bothers me is that many have taken this far too literally. ‘Post-PC’ doesn’t have to mean that PC’s in the form of laptops and desktops will be gone forever. It just means that they will no longer be the only serious computing form factor around.

In much the same way as how the IT world has moved away from mainframes but it doesn’t mean they aren’t still around. You can’t just turn them off and throw them away if they are still serving a purpose.

The tech world moves very, very fast. But we’re not seeing a one-for-one replacement of old tech with new tech. What we’re seeing is the world making room for this new tech alongside the other gear we know and trust. This could be because our requirements are getting more complex. Or just because we like shiny, new things. It’s irrelevant, but true.

When the the first iPad was unveiled many, including myself, scoffed at the idea. “There’s no market for a device in between a laptop and a smart phone”, we all said.

How wrong we were.

Recently, at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft publicly said: “In our view, Apple has it wrong!” when talking about the idea of a post-PC era. They claim that it is more of a ‘PC+ era’, and Windows 8 is the answer.

I happen to believe Microsoft are right.

I also believe that Apple are right. Why does anyone have to be wrong? This the the main reason I was bothered by this one.
It’s like arguing about whether a Pop-Tart is breakfast food or not. Who cares? It’s a delicious snack. A snack that would taste as sweet if it were called by any other name.

The iPad has taught us that there is room in our complex and technical lives for completely new things to be shoehorned in virtually overnight. In a similar light, I think there is room in the world for both Apple and Microsoft’s take on this. And Google, too, for that matter.

Microsoft envisage that this PC+ era is one where we have a unified operating system, Windows 8, across all our devices. This way we can have the same, or similar, experience regardless of whether we’re on the train, in the office or at home. All over our data is in the cloud (Azure, in Microsoft-speak) and our experience is seamless.

This is really good stuff from Microsoft, and I love it.

Apple’s vision is not too dissimilar on the whole. The fundamental difference is that they give us two different operating systems to play with; iOS for our iPhones and iPads and OS X for our MacBooks and iMacs.

This does seem a little un-Apple-like and fragmented. The upcoming Mac OS X release, Mountain Lion, borrows much of the functionality originally developed for iOS to the point where the two operating systems almost seem to be converging into one. Microsoft have had the luxury of being in the back seat for so long that it seems they have recognised this and beaten Apple to the punch at their own game. But I digress…

It’s all very interesting and ultimately consumers win when there is healthy competition in the market. This is makes me happy.
With competition driving these tech giants to innovate and push the boundaries, we may well end up with a device that truly replaces the laptop/desktop one day. In reference to my earlier analogy – this would be like replacing the car with some kind of super hovercraft. I mean, we already have hovercrafts today, but there’s a reason why the masses aren’t rushing out to trade in their boats and cars in favour of a one hovercraft.

The only reason I was irritated by these articles (and more their content) was because they grossly over-simplify the situation.

It’s not laptop vs tablet. It’s not Post-PC vs PC+.

It’s arch enemies, Apple vs Microsoft, like old times. With a healthy dose of Google ruffling feathers.
This is a battle that I am thoroughly enjoying.

Welcome back to the fight, Microsoft.

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