The Ridiculous Tablet vs PC Debate

[Opinion: The Ridiculous Tablet vs. PC Debate that wasn't]

Let me just get this out of the way so you know where I stand. Tablets are another PC form factor. It's just that simple. To claim otherwise comes off as trying to be sensationalistic to sell a story, naive, or possibly disingenuous.  Sound too harsh?  Well allow me to explain as I'd rather not be on the side that's confusing and obfuscating what's really going on inside the complexities of the PC market.  Let's dissect what a PC is and why a Tablet is one.

  1. PC = Personal Computer. It's "Personal" in the sense that you consume/produce digital activities on it to either access, store, or produce something that can be unique to you. The "Computer" part is that it's a piece of hardware digitally crunching software code via inputs and outputs. Doesn't matter if it's to a display, by a keyboard, a gesture, a mouse, or voice recognition. It's obviously more complex than this but you get the general idea.
  2. OS = Operating System. The OS is responsible for bridging the gap and communicating between the hardware capabilities, and what the software is telling it to do. (e.g. Windows, MacOS, Linux ((Ubuntu, Red Hat)), Android, etc). This is somewhat chicken and egg with the form that the device looks like; but I list the OS first because without it the hardware is pretty much a brick or boat anchor at that point.
  3. Next we have what I call the FF = Form Factor. PC's ~40-50 years ago used to look drastically different. They used to look more like server farms than today's tablets, Ultrabook™, iMac*, etc. The point is simply this. A PC can come in almost any conceivable shape and size you can imagine. Obviously the shapes and sizes we see today make the most sense given our lifestyles, the way we work and play etc. Here are a few things we can bank on in the future.
    1. ~40-50 years from now PCs are likely going to look drastically different than they do today. If the past is any indication for the future then the following assumptions can be made: More powerful, longer battery life, mostly mobile, bigger storage, thinner, lighter, and smaller.
    2. Convergence.  Not everything will converge; but let's face it, when you look at what's happened with point and shoot digital cameras, GPS devices, digital music players, the 'dumb' phones, and so forth; there's a strong case for digital devices converging more, and not less.  Most of these devices are both getting 1) Smarter, and 2) Connected.
    3. Commoditization.  Remember the prices of PCs from say 30, 20, or even 10 years ago?  Well... for the most part they're getting cheaper.
  4. Apps = Software Applications. There's a limitless volume of apps out there as well. This can be anything ranging from: Surfing the Internet via Firefox, Google, IE, to emailing/texting/Skyping friends, to playing games, to working, watching a movie/tv, listening to music, and so forth.

In all of these key cases the OS, the Form Factor, and the apps continue to evolve whenever advancements are being made in either the coding languages, the components that make up the various form factors, and the software apps that we interoperate with.

Tablets still allow us as users to do most of the software applications we've all come to know and love. Can you still surf the internet? Play a game? Do an email? Chances are yes. More robust and capable tablets such as the MS Surface Pro allow you to do anything you normally would be able to do at work or for leisure. Lastly; when you crack it open you still see these newer devices being powered by some 'x' processor, (e.g. ARM, AMD, Intel, etc), there's still a motherboard, memory, & typically a drive (solid state or otherwise). All you're seeing is just another evolutionary branch on the tree of PC.

Here's one picture of how I like to illustrate it


So there you have it.  I think the next steps we'll see in the evolution of PCs will be credit card-sized PCs, perhaps some wearables, and much smarter PC devices that we can interact with more.  The future is exciting indeed and the PC, in all its myriad and evolving forms, is bound to be with us for a very long time.

I'll summarize it like this to the press, analysts, researchers, etc.  Please stop confusing the form with the function.  The only thing dying right now isn't the PC but rather the single purpose and 'dumb' devices. 

I hope you enjoyed this piece.  If you disagree or agree I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Best regards!


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mad\mployhar's picture

Totaly agree Dmitry. Those are good points. I'd say that GPS Navs and media players though are more akin to 'storage' than 'pc'. A PC has the 'storage' attributes but takes it a few steps further. Typically by being far more multi-function. 'dumb' devices tend to be one or two trick ponies.

Btw: Here's another great article that just came out that builds on my premise:

Based on a definition of the "computer" term I studied in university, "a computer is device that can receive process and output data". I've also heard an alternative definition, which is "device that can receive process and _store_ data". According to both definitions, my current phone fits this "computer" idea more than System/370 I programmed 25 years ago: phone could recieve/output much more data and System/370 did not have my favorite FM Radio application ;)

Wait a second, we forgot to include in the list all those set-top boxes, GPS navigation, media players and all the variety of charming gadgets people use every day. 

You're defenitely right. 

mad\mployhar's picture

I ran across this article this morning that also helps illustrate the point I'm making.,2817,2423178,00.asp

Regarding his open question about 'should we also count smartphones' - that's going to be a tough one. The way I see this is that they kinda already are 'pocket PCs'. They're very multi-function; and as a device are the pinnacle of convergence. What's interesting about SmartPhones is that I think the newer generation spends more time on them texting, than an actual call. (I can't back that up with stats yet but in time). Also; given that PC's are shrinking, the components, the form factors, the batteries, etc it's logical to see all types of other devices become 'smarter' and or 'PC-like'.

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