Without doubt the most popular gadget for the last 2 years has been the tablet PC. Though it should be noted that a chunk of the “tablet PC market” is consumed by one product, the iPad. Apple has cornered the tablet PC market with its iPad and its behemoth back end sales channel also known as the App store.
The CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, proclaimed in the new iPad release conference that we are now living in the post PC world where the PC is no longer the centerpiece of our lives. He explained that devices like the iPad bring technology to the end user, where it suits them. Unlike the PC where the end user has to bend and accommodate the technology.
But haven’t we heard this death cry before?
It’s worth bearing in mind that when the laptop was first invented, the death of the PC was announced. The same was said with the advent of the netbook. It was argued that laptops weren’t portable enough but netbooks were, with their 6 hour battery life. But the death of the PC did not materialize.
So when Tim Cook talks about the post-PC world, could he be making the same erroneous judgements?
Perhaps quite not. A netbook or a laptop is essentially a PC but without the strings, it shares the same operating system and the same basic input devices. A tablet on the other hand is quite something else. It’s not so much the hardware that will change the way we use technology but it’s the software, more accurately the operating system (OS).
Why the tablet is fundamentally different from a PC?
A tablet is always on. It goes on standby yet keeps sending and receiving messages from the network. It can be powered up in seconds and used to perform all the normal functions. As far as the user is concerned, it never shuts down. In practice, it means that the tablet is always available for the end user.
Tablets rely heavily on cloud based apps; the apps need to be connected to work. Social networking apps and web based email are the most obvious, but you might be surprised to find that more than 17.5M people use spotify (a web based music streaming service) to listen to music. Google docs are increasingly being used almost exclusively as the document writing suite of choice.
On the PC front the pattern is similar. Users are increasingly using online backup which doubles up as file synchronisation service to create their backups instead of local thumb drive backups. These days it’s very rare that you install software on a computer with a DVD drive. Almost all software these days is downloaded.
Having said that, the PC will always be an essential piece of the computing puzzle. A PC is still required to print files from. Oh and try updating your iPhone OS without a PC. Until very recently the iPad too required a desktop or laptop to connect to before running for the first time.
Staggering tablet sales records!
According to Gartner, the predicted number of iPad, Android and MS tablets to be sold in 2012 is 96M. In comparison, PC sales will be 390M by the end of the year. That means tablet sales will be a staggering 26% of PC sales. That’s pretty impressive considering that tablet PCs have only been around for 2 years as consumer gadgets. Although the data does indicate that the PC sales will continue to grow, it will not be at a fast pace as tablet sales.
The PC is a constant when it comes to computing. If the internet connection shuts down, the PC can largely work albeit without the internet. Most importantly, it can work offline. If you’ve been cut off on your WiFi and 3G, you’ll realise that how useless an iPad feels. But that’s the key point here — 95% of our leisure computing activity revolves around the internet. Tablets are in essence internet devices.
Microsoft is well aware of the trend towards tablets, and isn’t leaving anything to chance. The new OS, Windows 8 will run on the ARM instruction set. Tablets like the iPad are based on ARM, which means that Windows 8 is well equipped to compete in the tablet arena. More importantly, the hybrid tablet/desktop operating system would allow for seamless integration between desktop and tablet which could lead to interesting results.
Perhaps, not quite there yet!
We’ve already addressed that the rise of the tablets were largely due to the internet which brings me to my final point. If we asked everyone on the internet whether it was time to get rid of our PCs, the answer will be a resounding “no”.
Secondly, while many computers are just about functional on mobile platform, the vast majority of websites perform poorly. If end users were to do comparison shopping to find the best bargains, you’d struggle on a tablet or smartphone. A good old PC is needed for multi-tasking. Even websites like Google maps are impossible to work with on smartphones and tablets. This is where the PC still comes into its own.
==== About the Author ====
Simon Butler is the co-founder of the iPad rental company in the UK. Simon is a computing enthusiast who enjoys building performance computers for gaming and blogging.