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Post PC? It Looks More Like the Post TV Era

About a year and a half ago Steve Jobs introduced the iPad and declared that we were now in the “Post PC Era”. I purchased an iPad, then I bought an Asus eee Transformer (with dock) and finally bought an HP TouchPad. They all do about the same things with various strengths and weaknesses; overall all of the tablets are pretty much the same when compared to the functionality of a PC. (For the sake of this article a PC is a desktop or notebook running Windows or Mac OSX.)

Tablets have allowed me to move easily away from my desk to read email, read some websites, check Twitter, Facebook, watch some videos, use apps and, of course, play games. This increased mobility is great and this has provided both entertainment value and, in some cases, productivity gains over a PC. Tablets can be a useful tool.

Now, if that’s all you need from a PC then Mr. Jobs is correct and for those people it is the “Post PC” era. But I believe a great many of us do quite a bit more and would suffer major productivity losses if we found ourselves without PCs.

The greatest failing of the tablet is data input. On-screen keyboards for phones are problematic, but we put up with them because we’re rarely typing more than a sentence or two. On-screen keyboards for tablets are just horrendous. You can either put yourself through the torture of thumb-stretching in portrait mode or try laying the device down on a flat surface and hoping it doesn’t slide, rock, or shift screen orientation while you hunt and peck on a keyboard that can require shifts, functions keys and keyboard changes to do something as mundane as typing your address. All the while giving up half of an already too-small screen and guaranteeing that your display will quickly look like it was the test blotter for a fingerprinting kit.

Much to the chagrin of some, I happen to write documents longer than a two sentences. Call me crazy (you won’t be the first), but I’ve even been known to have five or six applications open and running at the same time. Sometimes I even utilize two monitors.

Those aren’t things that Tablets do very well if at all. When it comes to replacing the computer…I just don’t see the tablet taking its place. Sure, it is a substitute for some functions, just as it also serves the purpose of a gaming console, portable gaming console, and TV at times. Actually, if anything, it’s the TVs and gaming consoles, which have the most to worry about from tablets.

While a tablet won’t take the place of your 60-inch flat screens it is stealing the TV’s lock on our attention. For years companies have been trying to bring the internet to the TV screen. There have been devices that allow people to read their email on a TV, browse the web and lately they’ve been pushing accessing Facebook and Twitter on our big screens. Problem is the only thing worse than typing on a tablet is trying to type on a screen that’s 10-feet away. It doesn’t work, and why would anyone really want to do it anyway?

Now, while we’re watching that episode of “Jersey Shore”, we’re bringing the internet with us to check on whether Sammy and Ronnie really worked it out. Some are even skipping the TV altogether and watching their video entertainment entirely on the tablet.

We also use tablets the same way we use TVs. Instead of clicking a remote and going from CBS, to NBC to HBO…you’re going from You Tube to Facebook to Angry Birds and then maybe to Netflix or Hulu. The newer tablets like Sony’s S1 and Vizio’s VTab both include extensive TV remote control functionality and all of the manufacturers continue to expand their entertainment offerings.

Recent studies have shown that more than half the homes in the United States have three or more televisions. I see that number beginning to shrink as the TV becomes more of a special events product. Sure, we’ll probably all gather around the large screen for big events like the Super Bowl especially if the TV developers can come up with workable 3D technology that doesn’t require everyone in the room wearing a battery-powered pair of Groucho Marx glasses.

As for the PC, I believe it to be a long way from dead. Yes, just as gaming consoles took over as the major gaming platform from PCs, tablets may begin to erode PCs being used for non-productivity web use, portable gaming and basic video entertainment viewing. But it’s the keyboard/mouse, larger displays and significantly more powerful processors that will keep the PC as the primary computing device at work, at schools and in the home…just not the living room sofa.

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Lynn Lopez September 20, 2011, 1:44 pm

    Hmmm, interesting observation. I have an IPad2 and a Galaxy Tab 10.1 in my house. Watching shows on them is really nice, but nothing beats watching that same show on a 50in screen. I can see where if you have kids giving them a tablet could save you the price of a tv and give them even more functionality. But for a basic 2 person (where both generally like to watch the same shows) or 1 person house I do not see the TV going away at all. 95% of all tv watching happens on the tv in our house. The only time i use the tablet is when I am trying to get a show I forgot to DVR or some series I never watched. Even then I use the hdmi cable and plug the tablet to the tv to watch it. Plus you get so much better sound out of your stereo hookup and don’t have to wear earphones.

  • Marc September 20, 2011, 2:25 pm

    Good article and insight. You’re right, the tablet just doesn’t have the functionality of the PC, and I don’t see it going away any time soon.

    What is really needed is combination of the PC’s functionality, and the tablet’s size and portability i.e. 3G/4G accessibility.

    Right now, some of the net books, and the 11″ Macbook Air come closest. Whoever fills that demand, I think will have a winner.

  • Ken Schoenberg September 20, 2011, 7:08 pm

    @Lynn Lopez – A great many homes currently have at least three TVs. I don’t see that going to zero anytime soon, but I believe the TVs other than the main set are going to start to be replaced by tablet devices. I think the main screen is here to stay…of course what’s feeding it is changing drastically.

    @Marc – The Asus Transformer is close, but the productivity software isn’t close. I’d rather write articles in notepad than almost all of the tablet word processors.
    I think Windows 8 is headed in the right direction. I want a device like the Transformer, but when I have it plugged into a keyboard I have a robust PC OS and when I pull it out I have an OS that is adept at stylus/finger use while retaining document reading and limited editing capabilities. Yep, I want it all :)

  • thsu September 20, 2011, 10:11 pm

    I use a big screen TV as my main computer monitor (along with a “normal” monitor as my secondary). The key is that you still need a desk and chair, which means relegating the set up to your home office, rather than your living room.

    The problem isn’t the TV, the problem is that efficient input devices and couches don’t mix. Using a big screen TV as your monitor for your home office is heavenly.

  • Smitty September 20, 2011, 10:52 pm

    I think our audience here may be a little skewed, being geeks and all. Being the only true geek in my house, and not being wed to any TV-only shows (sports, local news, Reality TV, etc.), I have found it extremely easy to not have a TV. We stopped watching it way before the HD cutover, and the one we had was so outdated that it would not connect to the convertors. We’ve been Netflix/Hulu/DVD only for several years, and use an old iMac for all of it. (Streaming we have to do one one of the MacBooks, since Netflix requires Silverlight, which doesn’t work on our G5 iMac.) My transition from the Mac to the iPad happened almost instantaneously. I played with it in the store on launch day, thought about it for about two weeks, and just bit the bullet and bought it. I tend to carry it everywhere – to work, to lunch, to cafes, to church, on bike trips around town, you name it. i used to carry my MacBook Pro on many of these trips, but now, it’s much lighter. Ive been on a few multi-day trips sans-Mac, and have not found anything that really makes me say “Next time, I’m going to take my Mac.” I write (I’m writing this on an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard), edit, post (not all web sites are good for this, however!), read and write email, surf, read the news, check the weather, view and edit photos (I have a Nikon D90, so most of those edits are cropping), and do just about all the other things I’d be doing on my Mac with the large monitor at home. Sure, it’s not as comfortable. I have to actually switch programs, rather than have them all on the screen at once. This is not hard at all (double-tap the home button, and your last few apps appear. Tap the one you want, and you’re back in it, while your work is saved on the previous screen.) All this, for half the price of the cheapest complete Mac (MacBookAir 11″ – $999).
    We’re not truly 100% post-PC, but I’ve moved to being about 90% of the way there. I don’t have a desk with a computer at work, and only log in to one for email. Most of the time, I do things on an iPad (either mine or one provided by work.) Even long-form reading, which I used to do on the large screen, I send to Instapaper from either my iPad, iPhone, or Mac, and read on one of the iOS devices during lunch or a break. What I don’t do on the iPad is tweak code, or write HTML/CSS, or edit movies or music. Those aremusic things that still need the big iron of a full computer and the screen real estate that comes with it. Most of the stuff that “normal” people do everyday, however, can get done on an iPad with little loss of time to training or changing of processes. The largest issue seems to be changing perceptions. If you’re a touch-typist or coder or concole gamer who wants the iPad to do those things, you’ll be disappointed. If, however, you’re willing to look at what you’re trying to do and consider using other tools and doing things in a slightly different manner, you’ll find the iPad can flex to assist you in that, and probably do more than what you’re hoping.
    That’s been my experience, anyway.

  • Alan September 21, 2011, 4:05 am

    I think Win8 could fix this quite well, esp If Intel and AMD continue to lower power consumption… the Fusion APU’s for example have way mroe GPU power than any ARM shit, plus I like quite a ot of my x86 apps.

    Using Win8 on a tablet, but connecting a keyboard and monitor via hdmi would be the best.

  • Ken Schoenberg September 21, 2011, 8:53 pm

    @Smitty – I can write an article on the iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard, but the lack of a mouse. The need to switch programs and the truly limited functionality of most Apps makes it a much slower and tedious affair. So, while it is lighter…the trade off is productivity.
    There are some tasks where it is faster. If I’m diagnosing a router issue it’s much easier to have the iPad right next to me…there’s no need to find space to setup a laptop.
    All in all though over the year I’ve had an iPad and the other tablets I’m seeing more and more of the limitations to the point where I purchased myself a new ThinkPad x220 recently to allow me get my work done while not at my desk. That wasn’t my first choice…but I’ll trade saving time over carrying an extra pound or two.
    Tablets will get better…and I believe some of them will focus more seriously on productivity than entertainment down the road.

  • Ken Schoenberg September 21, 2011, 8:54 pm

    @Alan, that’s my hope as well…we’ll have to see though…at least its a start. I hope Microsoft can execute.

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