The Year of HyperboleFriday, March 4th, 2011
For a man who lives in the heavily hyped, increasingly referenced post-PC era, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.
The iPad is an amazing device. The quality of experience you have when using one borders on the luxurious. Although I personally feel it’s better suited for consumption than production, it’s clear that it can serve the latter task. (I’d prefer some better multitasking support in that regard, however.) Browsing the web with one is a dream (until you hit a flash site), and watching videos feels like a guilty pleasure. Having seen the announced changes for the iPad 2, I can only assume it will build on the experience.
I’ve been recently planning on getting some sort of non-desktop computer. Despite being a tech-heavy individual, the only portable computing device I own is an iPhone 3G, which is a slow and devoted servant that doesn’t quite meet my mobile computing needs. I’ve strongly considered laptops, but would prefer less bulk. Netbooks seem like the right size, but once I get there, I start to think form and function… and after my experiences with the iPads of my co-workers, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that a tablet would serve me far better, most of the time. For my budget, purchasing one is a non-trivial expenditure, but it’s increasingly one I’d like to make. And since the current crop of tablets largely don’t feel right to me other than the iPad, I’m thinking that my money will be going to Apple. (I admit to interest in HP’s TouchPad, but haven’t researched it enough to know if it’s going to be a worthwhile contender.)
Even though I’m increasingly sitting in the pews, however, I’m still not ready to drink the kool-aid with Apple’s more enthusiastic supporters.
The comic today, featuring Faruk Ateş as the stand-in for Apple lovers everywhere, pokes fun at the hyperbole surrounding the iPad 2 and hints at some of my reservations regarding our alleged post-PC era. To listen to some of Apple’s more outspoken fans speak, this device is ushering us into some sort of golden era where we’ll recline on couches like ancient Romans, being fed grapes as we laugh about the old days where typewriter-like devices called computers chained us to desks.
We’re not in a post-PC era, folks. We’re not entering one, either.
We’re not witnessing the first automobile in an era of horse-drawn buggies. We’re in an era of cars and trucks looking at the first motorcycle.
Because the iPad and all other tablets are personal computers. Period.
Although they vary in form from a desktop computer, so does a laptop or netbook. This is just a more extreme change in form, with the keyboard disappearing altogether. But if my mother owned an iPad instead of her desktop computer she’d be using it for the same thing: checking email, browsing the web, watching and sharing videos of cats and sending me messages on Facebook asking me if I’m wearing warm-enough clothes and eating properly.
How she’d interact with the computer would be novel for her, admittedly. And to an extent, where she could do it would also be somewhat novel, but as a person who’s used a latop frequently she’s not going to find the iPad used in too many spaces she already hasn’t had computer access.
Now, for me, if I owned an iPad, I’d use it for much of (but not all of) my home computer experiences. Watching videos. Making notes or casually browsing the web, figuring out where I last saw an actor on a program I’m watching on television. But it won’t replace my desktop altogether just like the motorcycle didn’t make the truck obsolete. Complex graphics-related tasks, multitasking the many programs I use in my daily job, or any situation where I need two monitors to do the same task all represent situations where the iPad wouldn’t be the idea computer to use.
These sort of use-cases are far from ordinary. Most people, like my mother, don’t need a desktop over a tablet. I agree 100% with this assertion. But I’m going to argue that the iPad and its ilk are evolutionary products, not revolutionary ones. What Apple did was take a preexisting form factor for the computer (albeit, a largely unused one) and make it hotter and more relevant. Apple changed the public’s perception on what is a desirable form for their personal computers, they did not create a different category of device that replaces a computer.
Let’s celebrate the iPad 2. Let’s celebrate tablets. But let’s also recognize them for what they are. Personal computers. In this regard I agree with John Gruber. I don’t know what revolutionary device will replace the computer; however I bet that we’ll fail to predict it, will initially fail to recognize its impact on society and application, and that it will completely change our world.
The iPad’s impact is big. But it isn’t the kind of impact I’ve seen people describing it as.
As a parting request: Apple and any other tablet manufacturers out there… please, please, please unchain the tablet from the desktop. Let me activate and sync and use my tablet without any need for a laptop or desktop computer. Only then will tablets be practical replacements for desktops in a home.