People have been proclaiming the death of the PC since the the first one rolled off the lines in the mid 70′s. Regardless of what innovation seems to come along, from the mobile phone to the tablet, people have been claiming that the PC will be quickly entering the realm of the dodo within a “few short years”.
At first, it was palm pilots — small computers that could handle basic functions like email and reading word documents were going to revolutionise how we computed. When people realised the distinct lack of functionality these devices offered, such claims were forgotten as swiftly as they arrived. Smartphones were next, with apps promising to — again — completely revolutionise how we did our work and accessed the web. They did both, but they didn’t replace the PC.
Now tablets, in particular the iPad, are being touted (usually by mainstream news organisations and Apple stalwarts), to yet again prove our boxes redundant. It’s easier to do work on a tablet, they shout. It’s smaller, portable and uses less power! There are games on tablets! Touch, voice and gestures are the future they cry, forgetting that it’s been over 15 years since the first continuous speech recognition software was developed, and they still can’t get it to be more accurate than your bog standard keyboard.
If you believe the press, everyone is apparently desperate to dump their laptops and desktops… except they aren’t.
It’s not particularly surprising when CEO’s like Tim Cook use trumped up phrases like “post-pc era” to disguise the fact that people, well, still like using PCs. Over 86 million of them are still sold every quarter, across all areas and spectrum of the market. But when your profit margins lie in creating thin touch-only tablet devices, it’s especially pertinent to start talking just a little bit of smack.
Sure, it’s undeniable that tablets are selling in droves, and I would be delusional if I just assumed that they were just some kind of dwindling fad. But the fact of the matter is that if you need to get something done digitally, you still need a PC to do it.
Tablets are fantastic at media consumption, because it’s what they were designed for. Downloading cheap applications, streaming videos and music, while some of the more adventurous of us might even attempt making a home movie on them. But regardless of what tech sites might exclaim, you very rarely see anyone doing actual work on them. Could you render a Pixar movie on a tablet? How about designing a world class stadium? Sure, you can probably look at it on a tablet, but I’d be hard pressed to find the guy who lays out that sort of detail with his thumb and pinch view. Hell, how about even coding a tablet application? Oh, yeah. You need a PC.
PCs, more than anything else, provide almost limitless flexibility in both work and play. It’s the only device on which you could theoretically code a complete gaming experience and run it in a second window, debugging it in the first. It’s the only device where you can access a free market for creativity, buying a game from Steam, another from GOG, or hell, even starting your own service without paying someone else for the privilege. Microsoft have realised this, and took aim at the middle ground with Surface, effectively what most people paying attention would consider a slim laptop.
It’s not very difficult to find people with reasons to doubt the future of our platform. HP and Dell are both losing money and growth, but I would argue this is more about market saturation than simply a lack of demand. People tend to be satisfied with their computers nowadays, thanks to Moore’s Law more than anything, for longer than they used to. Tablets are new devices, complimentary ones, designed to work alongside rather than replace. Most people would be loathe to dump their computers for a tablet if they relied on them for anything more than email or some basic word processing. Others point at the success of consoles, many of them extraordinarily older than previous generations.
I would point at the phenomenal success of services like Steam, Desura, GOG and the thousands of other PC centric services that are holding their own and growing week on week.
I have no doubt in my mind that we will still be buying desktops and laptops for the foreseeable future. The sheer dynamic of productivity relies on people being able to utilise all sorts of peripherals to accomplish those tasks that actually make money, rather than consume it. In my experience, people attempting to do any sort of work on a tablet end up needing gadgets, like stylus’s, keyboards and even mice in some circumstances to complete objectives. This is counter to the argument that a Minority Report style interface (one that is, by all means, intrinsically complicated and heavy handed to operate) coupled with a web browser is the future of digital computing.
So, my friends, feel free to continue sniggering when those around you sneerily deride your PC’s ample future, numbering its days like the pile of pundits of old. While tablets come and go as the new “alternative” for a 27′ screen backed Xeon box, we’ll still be enjoying the best gaming experiences, the most flexible operating environments and the last bastion of free choice and open variety in the computing arena. Long live the PC.