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.