Saturday, March 31, 2012

The post-PC era

The term post-PC era seems to crop up everywhere. I first came across the term in an interview of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates back in 2007 at the AllThingsD conference. Since then the term has been in vogue and everybody has an opinion as what it means. Ray Ozzie tried to describe it in a memo back in 2010. The marketing machines at both Microsoft (link) and Apple (link) have tried to describe it to their own advantage.

To better understand what it means I went researching the term Personal Computer and found a statement on Wikipedia -

In July and August 2011, marketing businesses and journalists began to talk about the 'Post-PC Era', in which the desktop form factor was being replaced with more portable computing such as netbooks, notebooks, tablets, and smartphones.

This helped clarify matters. I believe some of the blame for the above interpretation can be attributed to Apple and Microsoft. Steve Jobs with his reality distortion field helped popularize the term post-PC and Microsoft reinforced it with the I’m a PC advertising campaign. Because if we go by Microsoft’s logic, that a device running on the Wintel platform is a PC then this is definitely the post-PC era. Jeff Attwood in his blog post “Welcome to the Post PC Era” provides a compelling argument in support of my statement. But the best supporting argument is Windows 8 itself, though it is called windows the metro interface has no windows and it runs on ARM processors (but I digress here, Windows 8 is a topic for a different blog post).

So what does the term post-PC era? We seem to be equating the term PC with the form factor of the PC like desktop, laptop etc. A PC is more than it’s from factor the simple definition of the term PC is a general purpose computing device for the masses.  And by that definition this is not the post-PC era. The author of the post The Dawn of the Post-PC Era. Not is correct in saying

“So, in this non-Post-PC Era, enjoy your PC–irrespective of its diminutive form factor, flatness or lack of keyboard. It’s a PC”

But all this is geek talk. I am talking like an engineer just taking things literally and getting caught in semantics while missing the whole point all together. The term post-PC is used here to describe a fundamental change in the computing landscape - the ability to use our PC without sitting down or getting tied to a desk. It describes the advent of the era of on-the-go PCs. It also describe an era where keyboard and mouse are not the only mainstream ways of interacting with a PC but things like touch, voice, pictures (camera), motion (accelerometer), location (GPS) and many more options became mainstream. The editorial Understanding “Post-PC” describes this as

“In simplest terms, a post-PC device is a PC without the baggage. No need to support decades of legacy apps and outdated programming practices. No need to adhere to the WIMP interface. No need to be able to do everything at the expense of being great at some things. Specs are not irrelevant, but they aren’t the key metric in determining what a post-PC device can do. Most importantly, the post-PC era does not signal an end to the PC.”

And I agree. So for now I will keep semantics aside for I believe these are very exciting times to be part of the computing world and if the current time is referred to as the post-PC era, then so be it.

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