I was reading DaringFireball today when I came across this. If you’ve never read anything from John Gruber about Apple, then you should take a look. He has an obvious pro-Apple slant, but I generally find his points clear and well supported. The post actually calls out a Macworld article by Andy Ihnatko that you can see here about his “Post-PC” device. In his own concise way, Gruber is piling on evidence to the assertion that, slowly, Apple’s iPad is replacing conventional computers in average people’s daily use. I’m not sure I completely agree with the idea.
So what’s my problem with the concept? Well, I think my issue begins with the whole “Post-PC” concept. I’ve heard the argument that Post-PC doesn’t necessarily mean that PCs are dead. But if we’re talking about the next step in personal computing, then aren’t we simply charting the demise of conventional computers? More than that, are we really post-anything? Despite what some may say, the iPad is a tablet, and we’ve had tablets for a while. I think that Apple had to differentiate its product when it launched. Calling it a Post-PC device was smart marketing. It clearly says, “This is the new, better, personal computer.” At the end of the day though, we’ve been here. Apple just found a better way for people to interact with a known device. Some say the better way, i.e. iOS, is what makes the iPad a Post-PC device. Wait a second, so any OS that allows us to manipulate a tablet better traditional Windows makes us a Post-PC device? So, getting past any personal preference, objectively speaking Ice Cream Sandwich is a superior tablet OS than Windows (Windows 8 will confuse the issue so let’s leave that alone for now.) So is a Samsung Galaxy Tab a Post-PC device? I think the correct answer would be yes, but that just means that the concept is more marketing than meat. Apple’s just trying to put its product in its own class, and let’s face it, it’s worked. Most retailers have an iPad category and a separate tablet category.
The truth is, I love my iPad, so this is tough to say. I think it is an amazing device that has a phenomenal user experience and great design. If you haven’t tried one, you should. But let’s quit with the catch phrases and the gimmicks. It is a tablet computer that is easy to use, capable of a lot of things, and is a extremely popular. That makes it different enough. “Post-PC” simply makes it sound like the next thing, the end-all-be-all. It’s not. It won’t be, and if it does, it will start looking a lot like a netbook with a touchscreen.
So I probably ruffled some feathers with that last statement. Before you leave in a huff, let’s look at Ihnatko’s post. He basically talks up the Post-PC phrase and points out how we’re in a “slow-roast revolution.” If we get to the meat of the point, I think he’s saying things are changing. I can’t disagree, but he still sounds so enamored with the idea that this is a new era. He seems to recognize that Post-PC is kind of a roofie, but swallows the pill anyway. So he goes on to recount the ways that things have changed in the iOS app space and why he’s now able to abandon his MacBook for his iPad. What I think he’s glossing over, though, is the compromises he’s making. Some are smaller than others, but all of them are compromises nonetheless. For example, using a keyboard with the iPad is necessary for extended durations of typing. I can’t prove that, but I think there is enough anecdotal evidence out there from experienced writers. With that said, I have yet to find a keyboard/case combo that can rival the ergonomics and comfort of typing on a MacBook (or any comparably sized laptop/netbook). I’ve looked and the best I’ve found is still less comfortable and flexible than a laptop. Let’s look past that for a minute. Let’s look at one of his main points, improved apps. He says that developers are now more willing to harnessing the full capabilities of the iPad. That’s true, as time passes, more sophisticated applications are making their way to the iPad. But even the most complex apps limit and simplify their functionality to match the experience of the iPad itself. They in effect have made compromises for the user. And by using the application the user makes those compromises as well. Don’t believe me? Try to find an iPad app that has more functionality than its PC counter-part. If there are any such apps (which I doubt, but can’t discount), then then they are in a very small minority. Ihnatko actually proves my point for me. The one application that he spends the most time on is VNC, an app that lets you remotely control your PC. If we really are Post-PC, than should we need something like that?
I use my iPad daily and I find I’m not booting up my MacBook as often. If I’m really honest with myself though, that’s because I’ve simplified my daily activities. Not improved or made more efficient, just simplified. I don’t do as wide a variety of computing tasks as I used to. I stick to the ones that I can do easily on my iPad. Not because I don’t want to do more complex activities, but rather because it is more convenient to do simpler activities. One example is uploading a document to a website. I was learning to use GoogleDocs (I’ve just never tried it, didn’t really need to) and I grew frustrated because I couldn’t get my document from Pages uploaded. It took a few seconds from my MacBook, but I will never attempt it again on Safari on my iPad. That is a task I would say is fairly common, but my guess is that most iPad users forgo its benefits simply because the iPad doesn’t support it. I haven’t done things better, I’ve just decided not to do the things that don’t work on the iPad.
So you’re probably having a hard time believing I’m a fan of Apple and the iPad. Really, I am. Honest. I mean it. I just don’t think that we need all the fuss, all the hullabaloo. Focus on the merits of the device. Buzzwords like “Post-PC” are what contribute to the idea that Apple customers are obsessed zealots who mindlessly follow the company that makes their iGadgets. We’re not post-anything and we’re not getting rid of our PCs, but the iPad is a great device. Let’s leave it at that.