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The personal computer is not dead nor is it dying. Hype and slick marketing may be painting such a scenario, but that is not even part of the picture when you look at the facts.
The first consumer computers were introduced by IBM in 1974/75. In 1981, Microsoft introduced the computer operating system called DOS, and followed up with Windows in November 1985. Although it took around 20 years before almost every home and every office had at least one, the PC revolution as we know it had begun.
Headlines of late though have been screaming things like the “Let the tablet wars begin” and tablet sales are in fact soaring. People everywhere seem to have a tablet in their hands, from business lounges at airports, to coffee shops in every shopping mall you can imagine. Tablets are hot, there’s no denying it.
The danger is in believing the hype. The PC is not dead and the tablet is not taking over, simple.
What is happening, in my opinion, is that smartphones, and now tablets, have given us a taste of true connectivity and, of course, convenience. In most cases, a 4 or even 5 inch screen is not good enough for extended use, be that use, web browsing, answering email, or even casually passing the time.
A tablet from 7 inches to 10 inches screen size is perfect for that. When you couple the size with battery life of over 5 hours, and in some cases 10 hours, it’s a no brainer.
The big question being asked by all of us is whether tablets are the new way we will all compute, and will they forever change computing itself? On the launch of the iPad, Steve Jobs referred to it as the new magical device which would change things forever.
I am all for some magic now and then but, simply put, real work needs real computers and real computers are those with hard drives, memory, and keyboards that run a fully developed operating system which will probably be a version of Windows.
Apple and Unix followers don’t get hot under the collar, your computers will do too.
When it comes to actual production — in any setting — be that homework and projects for high school, through to basic word processing and writing, all the way to launching the space shuttle: PCs are king and far away from decline.
Operating systems are changing, interfaces are becoming all touchy and feely with gestures and facial recognition coming on rapidly. Put simply, start planning your next PC purchase and don’t forget lots of memory, big hard drives, and lots and lots of processing power.
The tablet has its place: Nothing is cooler than showing off your presentation, or sales pitch, or latest web site, on your shiny new iPad. I would posit however, that 99 percent of all the content shown off on your tablet was created on a PC, and more than that, managed on a PC and hosted in a data centre run with PCs. The tablet is an interface; just an unusually cool and topical one.
In a world which is slowly moving to web based content, the tablet is, and will increasingly become, the logical extension of mobile devices and previously cumbersome display technologies such as fully-fledged laptops. The growth of cloud computing will continue unabated and certain types of processing, such as language translation on the fly, and content storage and delivery, will grow exponentially as these are perfectly suited to the new tablet and mobile devices. But when it comes down to it, the venerable PC will be used to actually work with, and on, all this content.
Consumption is only half of the equation.
The next big thing, in my estimation, is not the tablet. Many are hopping fully onto the tablet and app store bandwagon but we should not lose sight of the simple fact that consumption needs creation, and creation for now needs a proper PC. Intel and Apple see this, and are working on thin, light PCs that are fast enough, powerful enough, and have a long enough battery life to satisfy all needs.
I am positive that there will be a convergence of tablet and PC, with the next generation PC giving us the best of both worlds — combining extended battery life, with processing power and offline capabilities that tablets cannot match. A great indicator of this is Mac OSX Lion and the imminent Windows 8.
Tablets will be big, and will get bigger in the short term, but they will not dominate computing. In two to five years time, we will all have a tablet-looking PC in our bags.
Touchscreens may dominate, and connectivity will be ubiquitous, but the lineage of these futuristic devices will be the humble PC, not the magical new tablet.