Post-PC is Over! (If You Want It)

May 18, 2011
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Welcome to the future, the one past Dr Frink's vision for computers so large and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe would own them. This is a misquote, in so many words, of Thomas John Watson, Sr., president of IBM from 1914 until 1956, a period of some earth-shattering growth. Of course Watson, in his infinite wisdom as the world's greatest salesman, could never have predicted an environment such as the one we live in today where Post-PC doesn't mean that the stationary computer is gone, it means that the PC plays an inalienable role in a much bigger scheme of form factors, interfaces, and ways of connecting these devices via digital means.

As you may well know, a few months ago at the launch of the iPad 2, Steve Jobs himself let the world know what they might already have guessed: that Apple now gets more revenue from non-PC devices than it does from its PCs. The iPhone, iPod and iPad, all of them running on what's now called a "mobile OS", for Apple called iOS. Although my colleague Chris Davies has written that Post-PC is Premature, I'd have to disagree. We've been Post-PC for years. I'd like to turn to Sarah Rotman Epps writing for Forbes for a few more examples of this Post-PC craze:

The phrase was also part of the public discourse in 2004, when IBM sold its PC unit and former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz told The New York Times that “We've been in the post-PC era for four years now,” noting that wireless mobile handset sales had already far surpassed PC sales around the world. In fact, the “post-PC” concept is more than a decade old: In 1999, MIT research scientist David Clark gave a talk called “The Post PC Internet,” describing a future point at which objects like wristwatches and eyeglasses would be Internet-connected computing devices.

Lets not lose sight for a moment the fact that Post-PC means whatever you believe it means, not simply that the Personal Computer is no longer a fighting force in our society. It would be absolutely daft to say that PCs were dead at this moment, it'd even be foolish to decide that PCs are on their way out, if you ask me. But why would I say such a thing on the advent of the $20 rental fee for a Chromebook, the purchasing of Skype by Microsoft, the collapse of society as we know it when the PlayStation Network goes down? Does it make sense to hold on to the personal computer when the real value is in the internet it interacts with?

In a report put out today by Forrester Research, the following items are listed as the main switches in computing: Stationary to ubiquitous, Formal to casual, Arms-length to intimate, and Abstract to physical. Let's take each of these apart and note how they're affecting the way we work day to day:

• Abstract to physical - the future of computing is in reducing the amount of devices, cords, screens, and materials it takes for you to interact with digital content. The most important transition of this century in computing was when it became more common to use your fingers on a trackpad than on a mouse, then just as natural to use a touchscreen as it was to use any other means of working with your media.

• Arms-length to intimate - where when I was but a little man living in the basement of my parents house (because that's where the computer was) the norm was for me to have a single computer in that single place, it's now more expected that I'm able to access my work, my play, and my connecting content from any device with a display wherever I happen to be. If a family member is visiting my wife and I's new baby, every other member of the family and our friends know what we're up to via the photos I take with my cellphone's connection to my blog or Facebook. They don't even have to go to their homes to attain such content, they've got access via their own cellphones which they carry with them all the time.

• Formal to casual - It's now more expected that a device will be on at the flick of a switch or the press of a button than it is to wait for a computer to boot up over a span of minutes. This advancement is moving at an exponential rate: where when we heard about the 5 second boot of the MacBook Air that's now sitting on my desk back in November-December of 2010, it's now expected that a laptop computer start up in that amount of time. Maybe not by the general public just yet, but for early adopters, speed is necessity rather than charming bonus feature.

• Stationary to ubiquitous - Where stationary gaming still exists, for example, it's now normal to be able to access whatever game you'd otherwise play only on your home PC from your handheld device. World of Warcraft has a slew of OK apps that allow you to bring your character with you when you are forced to leave the house. Windows Phone 7 phones take your Xbox Live character with you in the same manner. Where working on the internet while driving around town was simply not heard of a small amount of years ago, the smartphone explosion in the very recent past made it so it was odd that you weren't constantly connected.

Change comes quickly when it comes to the technological social world, exponentially so when it comes to this new mobile environment we live in. Is this the Post-PC world? Sure it is. Does that mean that PCs are literally gone from being an element that matters in our work and play-filled society? Far from it. Much in the same way that Globalization is both a buzz word and a reality that came upon us in such a rush that we didn't realize we were connected to our friends in Japan and India until we had invited them to our Facebook groups, we're already Post-PC.

Where do we go from here?

It's a place we're already in, this Post-PC era. There will be no winners in the race for the perfect computer because it's us. The perfect accessory? I don't think that exists either. How about the greatest marketing effort of the day, the one that tells you that this device, the one in front of you, is the one that'll bring us into the future? That's a fight we can win every day. Apple does it, Android is doing it, and everyone else in the industry is doing their darndest to figure out what "it" is. That's where we are now. There are no such thing as a stationary "PC" because it's already outdated. We're in the Post-PC era because we just threw out our last one to purchase a new one along with all the tablets, handsets, headsets, chips, and online intangibles that go with it.


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