I’m always highly skeptical of any product that comes my way that’s supposed to solve all my problems in a particular area. Cloud computing was a great example of this as I had already gone through most of the marketing spiel previously with Software as a Service and was stunned when it made its triumphant return with a few additional bells and whistles. Granted I’m coming around to the idea since the services have matured but I still don’t believe its the panacea to all of your IT woes as many of its advocates will have you believe. Of course this kind of hype talk is always around and the current buzzword du jour is the coming of the “Post-PC era”, a time where the personal computer is replaced by tablets and smartphones. Needless to say I’m highly skeptical of this kind of marketing malarkey,which in no small part is due to the fact that Steve Jobs has been the one to start spruiking the term.
The idea seems to be steaming from the recent growth in non-PC devices that replicate certain PC functionalities. For example the mobile web experience has matured significantly over the past 3 years with many web sites (including this one) creating separate sites designed for the mobile platform. Additionally native applications on phones are becoming increasingly more capable with many functions that used to take a fully fledged desktop or laptop now available in the palm of your hand. Truly the capability explosion that mobile devices have undergone in the past few years is quite extraordinary and extrapolating that out would have you believe that in a few short years these devices will be as capable as their PC cousins, if not more so.
However I just can’t see a future where the PC isn’t around.
You see these mobile devices (phones, tablets and what have you) are primarily consumption devices. This is because the platform lends itself to this quite readily as creation on these devices is quite a chore when compared to its bigger, tethered brethren. For instance I’ve tried several times to write blog posts on the run using my smartphone (even one with a physical keyboard) and the experience has been nothing short of atrocious. Sure hammering out a tweet or 10 is easy, 140 characters doesn’t take long at all, but any long interaction with my phone is quite a laborious exercise. Thus most applications on these devices are centered around consuming something rather than creating, simply because these devices aren’t really made for using longer than 5~10 minutes.
But I can the post-PC crazies saying “but wait you could pair your tablet with a keyboard and mouse thus solving this issue!”. Well yes, of course you could but in reality aren’t you just replacing your laptop for a tablet/smartphone with a giant dock attached to it? Realistically you’re just replacing the innards of your current PC with something that’s, I’ll admit, far more portable but also a whole lot less capable. You’d probably find that there would be beefed up versions of these mobile devices available, sacrificing battery life and weight to give you a little more power. That or they’d rely on massive back end infrastructure, in essence going back to the good old days of mainframes and thin terminals (defeating the whole post-pc era idea completely).
Are there things that PCs should give way to? Of course, the fact that mobile devices are limited primarily to consuming content rather than producing it means that the consumer experience on these devices is quite good. Whilst I may use several services from my PC the vast majority of my time spent on social media is through my iPhone simply because it’s easy and available. It also makes for a great travel companion when I don’t want to lug my Macbook Pro around and only need access to a few files like itineraries or other information. Does that mean they can replace my PC outright? Hell no, but there are many use cases where I’d prefer to be using my mobile rather than a desktop PC.
I think there will be a few people who will be able to replace their current PCs, whatever their form factor, with the new wave of “post-pc era” devices. Similarly there are also a similar number who will never have a need for such a device and will continue along as they are now. In the middle there will be those who use both, supplementing their PC with additional devices that suit a particular purpose they have in mind. That middle sector is where I believe most of the future users will reside, using the most appropriate device for the task at hand. Over time I believe our view of what constitutes a PC will shift but there will always be a place for a dedicated computing device, even if that ends up just being the horsepower driving the services behind the post-pc devices.