On Tablets As PCs: iPad vs. Mac

Not that long ago, then Apple CEO Steve Jobs sat down on an aging, over stuffed, living room chair in front of Apple’s most faithful, iPad in hand, and ushered in what came to be called the post-PC era; that special place on the space time continuum which we would look back to as a watershed moment in time and the history of the personal computer.

Jobs launched the iPad and sales skyrocketed, competitor tablets were launched in quick succession to compete with Apple’s new found success in the mobile segment of personal computing. Supposedly, the PC was set to fade away as people switched the the big iPhone– and iPads sold by the tens of millions each quarter. What happened?

Is It A PC?

For a few years Apple’s iPad ruled as the king of tablets while the iPhone basked in growing sales and Apple took in the headiest of profits as the world’s most valuable company and brand. But that was then and this is now. The post-PC era because something different than what Jobs envisioned, PC sales slowed and plateaued, but haven’t faded away; all the while Mac sales continued to defy the trends and grew to record numbers, only to begin a slow fade of its own.

Microsoft tried to pump new life into a flagging industry with the Surface tablet notebook hybrids– essentially Windows PCs with a touchscreen, but even that did little for the Windows maker’s bottom line as PC sales continue to drop like tablet sales.

What happened to the post-PC era?

Nothing. The PC isn’t going away. The PC is changing, aided and abetted somewhat by Microsoft’s all-in on touchscreens, and the world moving even faster than expected to large screen smartphones, both of which put the squeeze on tablet sales. It’s one thing to own a smartphone in your pocket, but for heavy duty computing– and to write anything substantive you need a keyboard– PCs and the Mac remain very good at what they do, and while tablets do more than ever, they’re not really PCs. Yet.

I see the problems with tablets from two perspectives. First, money. Second, physics. An iPad with a keyboard can do much of what an entry-level MacBook can do, but not everything and it’s unlikely ever to carry the same flexibility and power and a comparable iPad isn’t much smaller or lighter than a MacBook. A Mac can run Windows and Linux and everything in between. An iPad remains much an iPhone with a very big screen; useful, yes, but not exactly a bargain when the choice is a tablet vs. a MacBook.

A MacBook does not a great portable mobile hand-held device make, but Microsoft has made some room in the market for devices which double up– a handheld tablet, or a basic totable notebook; usually a device that does neither job too well, but enough to make Surface-whatevers look very good in television commercials.

What happened to the post-PC era?

The PC era never ended. PCs changed. They’re smaller, lighter, more capable and powerful than ever but nearing the zenith of what anyone could expect of a small computer, Moore’s Law notwithstanding, but a device that is losing some actual functionality to the more popular smartphones, and to a niche of tablet users who find it to be a very functional appliance that is less PC, but more useful and mobile and which requires less handholding and configuration.

There isn’t much my MacBook Pro can’t do that I do on my iPhone other than make calls, take beautiful photos, and keep in my pocket. The iPhone and the iPad both have more applications and more functionality that PC or Mac brethren, yet take less time and effort to learn or master.

The fact is our personal computing needs and wants have been spread out among more devices; Mac, iPhone, iPad, Watch, and all computer users cannot maintain all devices at the same time. There will be winners and losers. Smartphones are winners. Cars. Tablets have their place as SUVs. PCs and Macs? Trucks; from heavy duty to light pickups, but trucks nonetheless.

The PC Era never ended. PCs changed.






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