The PC is dead again, and IBM’s Chief Technology Officer should know. It has been 30 years since his company invented the machine that forms the basis of the vast majority of PCs around the world. But the PC, we are told, is ‘going the way of the vacuum tube, typewriter’ and ‘vinyl records’. Emotive words, but how accurate are they likely to be?
As a video game fan who primarily plays games on the PC, you’ll forgive me for reading these words with a little cynicism. My preferred mode of play has been forecast as ‘dead’ at least twice a month, every month by some leading figure for over a decade. Oh, and it won’t help IBM’s case that they declared the end of the PC era twelve years ago. How did that go for them? Well, considering that they left the personal computing industry entirely shortly after, they either had a point or they’re an irrelevant brand whose questionable competence should be a gigantic warning sign to anyone taking their forecasts seriously. Just saying.
Mark Dean’s argument is that the PC, neither laptop nor desktop, is no longer the primary mode of computing. He uses his tablet more than he uses his personal computer, which is intriguing, because it makes you wonder just how much a Chief Technology Officer can get done. The fact of the matter is that anyone who has to do serious work on their machine cannot rely on a tablet to get it done. Tablets are of course, incredible devices. But they’re for accessing information, not creating it. One doubts that Mark Dean tapped his blog out by using the touch screen keys of his tablet.
The assumption seems to be that, because tablets and smartphones will only get more powerful, they’ll therefore become more usable. And whilst it’s true that touch-screen keyboards can and will get more reliable and intuitive, the form factor is biased toward receiving information and almost completely useless for creating it. There are simple, ergonomic reasons for why our monitors don’t have keyboards directly beneath them, and software cannot fix these.
Of course, Dean claims that this isn’t his argument: his argument is instead about ‘innovation flourish[ing] in the social spaces [between devices]’. No, I’ve no idea what that’s supposed to mean. What it probably should mean is that cloud computing has the potential to transform devices. Not that this will solve the tablet’s underlying form factor problem, but along with streaming technologies, there is the potential for desktop PCs to simply become affordable drones reliant on remote super-computers
I hesitate to deny this isn’t a ‘death’ of sorts. Returning to gaming examples, it has been apparent for some time that the PC is no longer the site of innovation: fewer people are upgrading to better components, and fewer games are being released that reward hardware purchasers for upgrading. It stands to reason that the march of progress belongs to the new devices. But is this not simply because they’re new devices, on which more can be discovered anyway?
Cloud computing and tablets will cut into the innovative power and market share of the PC. But this is the consumer market we’re talking about. Tablets aren’t versatile enough for the majority of workplace applications. They certainly have a place in the office, but if that place is on the desks of every single worker, it’s only as a secondary device. As for ‘the cloud’, in the vast majority of businesses, where the runtime and storage space that are desired are already easily available in house, why would owners turn over all their data to a third party?
The PC isn’t dying, and I’m not convinced that the old cop-out of ‘it’s just changing’ is all that accurate either. The PC in its traditional form is simply losing its market share to devices that do a better job in a percentage of its functions. And it’ll take more than the sensationalist words of its estranged father to kill it off.