Mac fans won’t want to hear this, but Apple’s idea is little more than a development of the ‘always-on, everywhere’ ideal as promoted for years by companies as disparate as Google, Microsoft and RIM (make your own jokes about Apple taking other people’s ideas, adding polish and walking away with the loot).
In his Apple iPad 2 speech, Jobs pushed a theory he first espoused the previous year, when he opined that PCs would become “like trucks”: useful for certain tasks, but not for everyone (even though every red-blooded male would like a truck). The inference is that Apple’s tablet makes the PC like Windows tablets of times gone by: very useful to very few. Ironic, right?
But is the PC going the way of the dodo? The contrarian in me points out that to use an iPad as intended, you need to sync it with iTunes – on a PC. But that's a silly argument. Once it’s set up, you don’t really need to use iTunes with your iPad. A colleague recently failed to notice he’d mislaid his laptop for three days, so able was he to use his iPad for... well, everything but the kitchen sync.
Drop me a line and I'll tell you *which* colleague...
It all boils down to semantics.
The iPad 2 and its rivals are simply the next generation of lightweight, portable computers. They’re PCs.
We’re at a point where you can do most things, most of the time from a portable device – provided that you have connectivity. But just because you can use a tablet or smartphone for all of your daily computing tasks, it doesn’t mean you’d want to.
Mobile devices are good at mobility, but they’re not better than a desktop PC or laptop at much apart from that. Sometimes greater processing power, a hardware keyboard and a large screen make for a better tool. Try composing a long email, editing a spreadsheet or touching up a high-res photo on a smartphone or tablet. You can do it, but I still think you’re more likely to use a well-specced laptop if one’s lying close by.
Consider some of the major advances in home and portable computing in the past 20 years: from Windows 95 to Google Search, push email on BlackBerry handsets, the prevalence of Wi-Fi, ubiquitous 3G... They all reduce the importance of a single, central PC to that of a data and communications hub. But they increase the number of devices from which we can access the data, and the number of ways in which we can communicate and create.
In defending the PC's honour, my US colleague Jason Cross redefines the term ‘PC’ from ‘personal computer’ to ‘pervasive computing’. I don't fully agree with his linguistic sophistry, but I take the point.
Far from a post-PC world, we’re living in an era of multiple PCs: connected companion devices of all shapes and sizes. The PC has never been more important, nor more diverse. The iPad is just one of them.