Tablet dreams

THE unabated popularity of the Apple iPad among consumers has triggered all sorts of silly talk again about the demise of the personal computer and the post-PC era.

From Apple’s point of view, such enthusiasm is understandable. The company sold 3 million units of its iPad 3 in just three days after its introduction earlier this month.

“The table market will eventually surpass the PC market… it’s just a question of when,” said Apple chief executive Tim Cook at a recent conference call, noting that his company has already sold 55 million iPads to date. “Gartner estimates that the tablet market will be 325 million units by 2015.”

The trade press and market analysts were only too happy to jump on the bandwagon.

My favorite headline so far comes from MacNewsWorld in an article written by Chris Maxcer: “Why Tablets Will Send PCs Toward Oblivion.” His deep insight: it’s not the thousands of “fantastic apps that are pointed directly at consumers” or e-mail and surfing on the go that will help tablets do in the PC. Maxcer thinks it’s digital entertainment – movies, TV shows, music and books – that no longer needs local storage but can be accessed through the Internet.

“As a consumer, now I’m trained to look to a small, mobile screen for my entertainment. I have no nagging old-school fears about permanent storage, or even pretty Mac or PC screens and fast access to movies….This means that a major need for consumer PCs has been wiped out and marginalized in the span of months.”

Then Maxcer talks about the saturation of PC power.

“For most basic tasks, the processing power and memory requirements of our PC and Macs can now suffice for a long, long time. We don’t feel pain and agony as we browse to do online banking — it’s still pretty fast, even on older computers. This means there’s no longer dire need to upgrade PCs, and it throws the door wide open to pretty, shiny things with glowing screens.”

RTTNews, meanwhile, suggests that tablet computers are gearing up to replace PCs, which will soon be relegated to “emerging markets” (read “poor countries”) and become museum pieces in the West.

Providing fodder for such claptrap are market analysts such as Gartner, which says tablet computers are expected to sell 60 percent as many units as PCs by 2015.

Gartner estimates about 63.6 million tablets were sold in 2011 compared to about 357 million PCs, only about 5 percent of total PC sales. By 2015, an estimated 326 million tablets will be sold compared to 535 million PCs..

Forrester, on the other hand, estimates that 112.5 million adults in the United States — 34.3 percent — will own a tablet computer by 2016.

“When we’re talking about the post-PC world, we’re talking about a world where the PC is no longer the center of your digital world, but rather just a device,” Apple’s Cook said. “We’re talking about a world where your new device, the devices you use the most, need to be more portable, more personal and dramatically easier to use than any PC has ever been.”

If all this sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because similar predictions have been made before, shortly after the introduction of the Apple iPhone and its Android competitors. Did PCs disappear? Hardly.

John Naughton of The Guardian notes that the iPad is great for some things, and hopeless for others. “One could, I suppose, try to write a book, edit a movie or build a big spreadsheet model with it – just as one could, in principle, dig the garden with a teaspoon. But you’d be mad to try,” he writes.

Indeed, if you’ve ever tried to move files to and from your iPad without going through the Internet, you will know what Naughton means. The device simply isn’t designed to do even the most basic file operations that people who work on their computers need to do everyday. Need to attach a file while in Gmail? Good luck, if you’re on the iPad.

How about printing? On Windows, Macs and even Linux PCs, printing is fairly simple and straightforward. This is not the case with iPads and Android tablets, which require some kind of proprietary solution.

Then there are the applications that businesses normally require that don’t run on tablets. Noting that even Windows 8 tablets won’t run legacy Windows software, InformationWeek notes that “the tablet’s arrival in the workplace may cause major migraines for enterprises.”

The iPad and other tablets may be great devices for accessing digital entertainment from anywhere, but they will hardly replace the PC. To anyone who says otherwise, I have this to say: “I’ll give you my desktop and notebook PCs when you pry them from my cold, dead hands!”

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