On June 1, 2010 at D8 Steve Jobs proclaimed that we were entering the post-PC era. This was quite a shock to some, but not terribly surprising to others. He had just introduced the magical iPad on January 27 and on April 3, Apple sold 300,000 iPads on the first day in the US. Still, when Steve mentioned that the post-PC era was coming, I totally got it.
He didn't mean that the desktop was dead, just that fewer and fewer people would be using them.
My take on it was that you could carry your digital life around with you wherever you went. On June 1, I was already using it for email, web browsing, and my calendar. I knew that this constituted much of what people do with computers. Yes, I figured the vast majority of users could do what they needed on an iPad.
On day one, the iPad was activated by connecting it to iTunes on your desktop, tethering it to your PC. But, on October 12, 2011, with iOS 5's release Apple rectified this by allowing you to activate your iOS devices over the air. They cut the cord. This was done synchronously with the iCloud release, which enabled users to sync their data to the cloud.
So, last year I was thinking, who needs a computer?
Well, that thought really only occurred to me in passing, because I used a desktop computer quite a bit for computer programming development. I wasn't your typical user.
But, for the average user, a desktop or laptop might not seem necessary at all. And this is the essence of the post-PC transition. This is evidenced in the cannibalization of desktop PC, laptop, and netbook sales by iPad.
With every release of iOS, the notion that you don't need a computer is becoming clearer and clearer. Recently, Apple released iPhoto for iPad and iPhone, and I can tell you it is quite effective.
It wasn't at all surprising that a few people were attempting to debunk Steve's point-of-view immediately. Take Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO. I imagine they would have everything to lose if Steve Jobs' proclamation turned out to be true. So what did he say?
At the same conference, D8, two days later, Walt Mossberg asked "Is the iPad a PC?" and Steve Ballmer answered "of course it is". The buzz was that the iPad was for consumption of media and that Windows tablets would be appropriate for creation.
Of course, history shows that Apple came out with iWork and most of iLife on the iPad very quickly. And now iPhoto is available. These are all creation apps. And now there are many, many creation apps on iPad for bloggers, artists, composers, and others.
Another of my favorite incorrect predictions was from Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, Craig Mundie in March, 2011, when he said, when referring to iPads and other tablets, "personally, I don't know whether I believe that that space will be a persistent one or not". And he continued with "Today those things are primarily being used in a consumptive model, because they're not very good for creating stuff".
So it's not surprising that Microsoft, with everything to lose, has applied a full court press to the iPad. What's surprising is that they have had so little effect.
It turns out to be hard to make a tablet that is as good as the iPad.
Having been around at the time, I can say it took years to modulate Mac OS X into iOS (yes, that's actually where it came from). So moving a huge boat anchor like Windows onto a tablet is going to be quite fun to watch. And, by the way, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it if I were you.
For Windows users, all the news is bad. First off, the interface is totally different. Second off, it can't run your Wintel applications. Third off, Microsoft is not building their own tablet, so it's just going to be a comedy of errors when it does come out. Oops, scrolling isn't smooth. Ooops, the baseband is too slow, and bogs down the processor. Ooooops, did you say you want pictures on this thing?
What I can't understand is why Microsoft hasn't fired Ballmer. Microsoft has lost position, profits, and prestige in both the smartphone and the tablet markets, all under Ballmer's watch.
But it gets weirder still.
When Steve Ballmer brought in Bill Gates to check out the ill-fated Courier tablet, Bill had "an allergic reaction" to the content creation side of the device, questioning the logic behind such a positioning.
So it's just possible that Ballmer's decisions were simply influenced by Bill Gates' bad call on tablets.
And it is also possible that Microsoft has gotten too large and entrenched in Windows-desktop-centric Office-using views to mobilize itself against the threat of the iPad, which they probably still will downplay using obviously stupid and childish observations until they become the purveyor of dead OS's.
Well, I'm not the only one to think this, apparently. Goldman, Sachs saw the iPad as a serious threat to Microsoft, and downgraded them in October 2010.
The thing about iPad and iPhone both is that they employ a radically new way of interacting: multitouch. This is as easy as using your fingers to type, scroll, browse the web, and pretty much everything else.
Really, as soon as the iPhone came out in June, 2007, competitors worked to duplicate the multitouch experience. Before the iPhone, smartphones were all keyboard. Buttons everywhere.
Perhaps its RIM with their Blackberry phone that has had the most difficult time, since typing on glass is pretty easy, and requires less movement of fingers. I don't have any problem at all typing on an iPad, especially if I am using the smart cover to tilt it to an ergonomic typing angle. Again, email is a pleasure on iPad.
But the main thing about multitouch is pretty clear: everything is going that way. All the laptops are going to multitouch, and it works pretty well.
There are other things that make gadgets easier to use than desktop computers. The portability aspect makes it possible to take pictures of things you see. This is a big one. The integrated GPS makes it possible to find your way, check traffic, and even check in to social media sites like foursquare.
Battery life is a big issue with gadgets. Never mind changing the battery, If you have to carry an extra battery, the gadget simply isn't as useful as when it lasts all day.
Slow devices aren't useful. Scrolling must be seamless. Movies must be real-time. And, most importantly, it should turn on instantly. This implies that plenty of flash memory, essentially solid-state disks (SSDs) are a necessary feature.
Connectivity is key in any gadget. Without it, the device might just as well be an expensive paperweight. So, the more kinds of connectivity, the better. I'm talking about wi-fi, 3G, 4G, and LTE.
My point is that you can't just have one or two of these things. You have to have all of these things.
Where Is It All Going?
My take is that multitouch is here and it will continue to pervade everyday life. Pretty soon cars will have multitouch control panels (check out the Tesla Model S). But don't expect multitouch to make its way onto your desktop screen. Holding your hand up to the screen is just plain unergonomic, and becomes quickly tiring.
But touchscreens for common tasks like getting directions on the subway will be highly desirable.
Gadgets will have to replace wallets also. Use your iPhone to buy stuff at the grocery store and it debits your account. Walk into a restaurant and get the menu on your iPad. Near-field communication (NFC) technologies like RFID seem a likely option.
Apple shows us with Siri in the iPhone 4S that voice command technology is quickly maturing. I find it useful for dictation, when I want to write an email or speak a text message.
Several pundits are predicting that Siri will make its way into other common everyday objects.
The march of technology is relentless. And it's accelerating.