And it’s a good thing for ALL of us
The iPad has been with us for almost 10 years now and the personal computer hasn’t died. If anything, Windows PC and Mac sales have recovered from past swoons. They aren’t growing as fast as they once did, but they are stable.
The Microsoft Surface has been around for close to 7 years, but all laptops haven’t suddenly adopted its unique 2-in-1 design. Some have, but the traditional laptop form factor is still with us today, and still makes up the majority of sales in the category. However, these facts do not change the fact that the Post-PC Era is very, very real.
Before I go further, this article was brought on by a little reading this morning. I came across an article on ZDNet from Chris Matyszczyk titled An Apple store Genius shows how the iPad Pro can’t replace a PC. The article was a take on an earlier tweet from Russell Holly from Android Central about his recent experience getting a faulty AirPod looked at in an Apple Store:
I’m in the Apple Store getting my AirPods Pro looked at (buzzing in one pod) and to run a diagnostic the tech did this.
iPad -> Laptop -> Dongle -> AirPods
iPad for diag UI, Laptop doing all the work. Because you can’t just connect to the iPad.
Post-PC era my ass. pic.twitter.com/6w4AEYDH8W
— Russell Holly (@russellholly) January 3, 2020
Ok, so I’m not going to beat around the bush here. I strongly believe that both the Tweet and the linked article are classic drive-by commentary against the iPad propped up by fairly weak, straw man arguments. Here’s why.
A single company’s choices do not define a market movement
Just because Apple’s iPad started the Post-PC narrative doesn’t mean they and their actions exclusively define it. I do understand the absurdity of the situation that Russell Holly describes here. I also understand why its happening with some context that he didn’t provide, but others who responded to his Tweet did. I would encourage you to read the thread, as it is certainly more informative than Mr Holly’s lone assessment.
First off, I understand that Apple’s decision to go all-in on USB-C hasn’t gone as well as its previous calls to move away from older standards. Despite complaints, the lack of a headphone jack hasn’t been the end of the world, so much so that most of the smartphone industry has followed suit. Apple’s previous moves away from the serial port and the Floppy Drive were similarly successful after a brief period of growing pains.
Unfortunately for Apple, the move to USB-C has not been this fast or smooth. Most modern laptops have USB-C today and many Windows Ultrabooks have moved to relying mostly on the newer standard at this point. However, few other manufacturers have gone all-in on USB-C the way that Apple has and there is no doubt that the decision has hurt them in comparison. It is a constant source of complaints and it hasn’t pushed the accessory market to fully embrace USB-C any faster. Put a pin in that for a second.
The other half of the argument in this Tweet is the fact that the Apple Genius is using a laptop and iPad with dongles together to run a diagnostic on an AirPod. This is what he hangs his “Post-PC my ass” comment on. However, an Apple Retail employee named Jennifer McWilliams provided some insight on this situation:
Cause it works. We tend to use machines discontinued from the lineup. All the tech used to cash people out are currently iPhone 6’s.
— Jennifer McWilliams (@jenmcwilliams84) January 3, 2020
In other words, this workflow for Apple Geniuses is necessitated by a business decision that Apple made, not the capabilities of the hardware. The tablet pictured in the Tweet is a base model iPad. If Apple armed their Geniuses with 11″ iPad Pros, I have no doubt that the entire diagnostic shown in this picture could be run straight from the tablet. As we all know, the current-gen Pros have a USB-C port and the dongle used for the diagnostic here could be plugged in directly. The higher-end Pro also undoubtedly has the power to perform such a simple task.
This is one of many reasons why I call this a straw man argument. In this case, it lacks any context and is therefore easily dismissed. I understand that Mr Holly is just Tweeting out a trolling reaction based on what he saw in front of him, but Chris Matyszczyk is trying to hang an entire article both refuting that Post-PC is real and claiming that the iPad has any true usefulness on the back of it. Just because one company in the market makes a couple of business decisions that don’t line up your narrow definition of what Post-PC means, you don’t get to throw the baby out with the bath water.
That said, I am not going to give Apple a pass for being too early to go all-in on USB-C and then too proud to walk back enough to be more practical for their users. I’m also not going to go easy on them for prioritizing using old hardware over showing some creative leadership. This Tweet and article wouldn’t exist if Apple were putting its money where its mouth is and walking the walk in its own stores. If I were an Apple exec reading any of this, I would be rolling out iPad Pros to techs in stores and prioritizing moving all possible tasks to them TODAY. If Apple wants to lead the Post-PC era again, they have to set an example for others to follow. What you see pictured in this Tweet isn’t that.
Post-PC IS the PC
Another easily dismissed part of this straw man argument is that Post-PC somehow only pertains to devices other than PCs. That is utterly and completely ridiculous. The Post-PC Era doesn’t just refer to devices like the iPad that can replace the PC for some or all tasks, depending on the needs of the user. It refers to any mobile computing device that has seen a paradigm shift since the release of the original iPad in 2010. I only choose that date and device because, while there were tablets and touchscreen computers before it, this device was the primary agent of change in the computing industry.
It’s as if the tech press has completely forgotten what things were like back in 2010. It’s as if netbooks never existed and the ill-fated Tablet-PC didn’t cost twice what a normal laptop did and wasn’t a complete and total failure in the market.
Ask yourself a few simple questions before you fall into the trap of defining the Post-PC Era so very narrowly. First, what killed netbooks? It’s a given that they were a fast-growing era of the laptop market up until 2010. We know that the entire category hit a wall and died off quickly. Why? For anyone paying attention, there isn’t any debate here. Apple’s original iPad and the iPad 2 mopped the floor with the netbook segment and squashed this part of the computing market. Apple developed affordable but attractive hardware that better met the needs of buyers looking for inexpensive computing devices.
Second, would the Microsoft Surface have come out in 2013 if it weren’t for the significant impact of the iPad in 2010? Also, remember that the original Surface also came with Windows 8, Microsoft’s ill-fated attempt to make their desktop OS more touch friendly. These were not accidents. They were products of Microsoft learning from their disastrous lack of action in the smartphone market in the face of the iPhone. The Surface and Windows 8 were far from perfect, but they did show Microsoft stepping up and leading a response to the rise of tablets, which would prove to be very important to their future.
The answers to these questions lead to one conclusion: the Windows laptop of today is just as much a Post-PC Era device as the iPad is. To dismiss the industry-wide changes for the better that the iPad’s fast rise forced is to completely dismiss what really happened over the last decade. PC makers had to adapt to recover from their sudden losses and to their credit, most of them did. The Ultrabook was born to compete with both the MacBook Air and the iPad. They included capacitive touchscreens without jacking hardware prices up further, as with the old Tablet PCs. Then we saw touchscreens trickle down to lower and lower models until they finally ended up on most laptops, regardless of price.
We certainly can’t ignore Microsoft. As I stated above, while a few PC makers like Lenovo developed quality ultrabooks right from the start (I’m typing this article on a current-gen Lenovo Yoga, by the way), Microsoft wisely decided to take a leadership role in defining what Post-PC Era PCs would look like. While they did eventually bring out a Surface Laptop, look at the form factors they lead with: the Surface Pro and the Surface Book. What is more Post-PC than these trend-setting 2-in-1 computers?
Does any of the above happen how it did, and more importantly, when it did, without the original iPad in 2010? Absolutely not. You can only define Post-PC as the iPad alone if you completely ignore the history of the mobile computing industry over the last decade.
As with Apple’s business decisions described earlier, I am not going to take up for Apple’s incredibly deliberate approach to moving the iPad Pro forward. It has been a snail’s pace at times, especially between 2014 and 2017, as sales fell and the category seemed to stagnate. They weren’t updated as fast and Apple didn’t react as the PC industry copied enough of what they were doing to keep people buying traditional computing devices.
While I still think Apple has been a bit too deliberate, things did shift with their revamp of the iPad and its features at WWDC in 2017. In iOS 12, we saw Apple finally start to address the some of the needs of people who are looking to use the iPad Pro as a primary computing device. Then we got the hardware bump we needed in 2018 with the current Pro and its much more flexible USB-C port.
Then came iPadOS. It was as if Apple finally listened to those of us who have been begging for certain features to make the iPad Pro the computing device that they describe in their commercials. We finally have a real browser, not just a big-screen mobile version. We have more refined multitasking. Even more important, using external storage is finally as easy as it should be.
iPadOS still needs refinement and additional features, but I know many executives and salesmen who could easily use an iPad Pro as their primary computer today thanks to it. I actually know a few who do and don’t lack for what they need. And this is in a professional setting. I know MANY home users who depend on iPads as their primary devices at this point. My Father and Mother-in-Law have for a few years now. My oldest son and youngest daughter use iPads as their primary devices at home and never complain about a lack of features. They both have access to computers that they rarely use for anything other than PC gaming. With the features added to the OS over the last three years, it’s even easier to make this move today.
As for me, I am not one of those people. I do use my iPad Pro a ton at work because it is far better than my Windows computer when it comes to touch and pen input. Anyone who wants to argue this can come ahead and fight me on it. I am a life-long Windows user and have owned four high-end touchscreen ultrabooks since 2013 for work. I also currently own a Surface Pro. None of them are even in the same zip code as my iPad Pro when it comes to functioning as a touch-centric or pen input device. That said, I am glad that my Windows devices do have these capabilities when I do need to use them. I see both sides of the Post-PC Era as a win-win for me.
I am what Steve Jobs described as a truck owner in his announcement speech for the original iPad. Until an even larger shift in the overall computing market takes place, I will need a laptop for work. That’s just the nature of my job, and that’s fine with me. I couldn’t even do my job on a Mac without running a Windows VM on it, so I will likely always be a Windows user.
There are many of us in the professional world for whom this is the case. However, thanks to the Post-PC Era that the iPad initiated, we at least have some of the benefits of a touch-centric device without having to own one. I fully acknowledge that will be enough for many laptop users, especially since smartphones have gotten larger and taken over the original Internet-Email-Social Media-Photo Browsing-Gaming tasks that the original iPad was aimed at. I choose to own and use an iPad Pro in addition to a laptop because I love the hardware, have always been fascinated by tactile interfaces and I prefer using it for the tasks it excels at, both at work and at home. It is my de-facto home computer at this point and there is very little I need to do there that I can’t easily accomplish with it today.
This argument isn’t entirely straw. There will likely always be people who can’t use the iPad as a primary devices. However, dismissing the people who can just because it doesn’t work for you is at best elitist and at worst, completely disingenuous.
Return of the Mac
Mr Matyszczyk takes Russell Holly’s Tweet and eventually makes the argument that Apple has prioritized the iPad and its messaging over the Mac.
It can be tiresome when so-called thought leaders insist a particular technology is to be dismissed because its successor is plainly here. It can be tiresome when tech companies neglect the older technology as a way of forcing customers into the new one.
Perhaps Apple will now try a little harder to create MacBooks that not only work beautifully, but that are beautiful to look at. Yes, I still embrace my MacBook Air because, despite everything, it works for my particular needs. And, look at Holly’s photo, older ones even work for Geniuses.
You could have made the argument that Apple deprioritized the Mac in favor of the iPad a few years ago, but I don’t think it holds water at all today. This goes back to the same thing I said about iPadOS earlier: Apple finally started listening to their core customers again. They replaced the MacBook Pro’s butterfly keyboard mechanism, reinvigorated the pro desktop lineup with the iMac Pro and Mac Pro and even beefed up the long-suffering Mac Mini to commercial standards. There have been several upgrades to the MacBook lineup over the last year, and as long as Apple brings the new scissor keyboard to all models soon, I don’t see how there can be many complaints about any lack of love. We may even get a new MacBook running on ARM this year. Apple has made it clear that the Mac and macOS aren’t going anywhere.
Apple isn’t batting a thousand here, as USB-C or else is still being rammed down Mac users’ throats. They also resist adding touch to macOS even though the rest of the market has embraced it on their laptops and some desktops. You could certainly argue that Apple’s desktop hardware is Post-PC in form factor only, and that they lag well behind the Windows camp in this regard. That said, touch isn’t essential to or necessary for the core operation of any Windows device, so other than those professionals who require pen input on their computers, Apple isn’t forcing the iPad on anyone today.
Straw man down again.
The PC is dead. Long live the PC.
I could keep on going refuting the narrow view of the Post-PC Era or iPad marketing that Mr Holly and Mr Matyszczyk put forward, but I won’t. I think the facts adequately speak for themselves. Apple creating a mess for its technicians by relying on older or lesser hardware in their retail stores makes for a nice troll, but it isn’t a real argument against the history of the last 10 years of the computing industry. One manufacturer and its chosen path for a single device category, which obviously hasn’t always been the right one, doesn’t lessen the impact that the original iPad had on the laptop industry and the changes that occurred after to stabilize that market.
Also, just because most tech writers can’t or don’t choose to use an iPad or other touch-centric hardware as a primary computing device doesn’t mean there aren’t many people who can and do on a daily basis. And no one at Apple is holding a gun to anyone’s head and forcing them to buy iPads. However, the most convincing argument to me is this: anyone who dismisses the fact that the term Post-PC encompasses a large portion of Windows computing devices made today is setting up straw men that just can’t stand up.
You know what’s great about the real Post-PC Era: you have more hardware choices than ever before thanks to the changes that came because of it. Ignore the trolls and haters. Pick the best computing tool for your needs, whatever it is, and enjoy using it.
What do you think about the Post-PC Era? If you use an iPad, does it have you covered, or does it still fall short of being a primary computing device? Do you feel like Apple is forcing you to buy on today? Let me know in the Comments section below, on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog, on Facebook, or on Flipboard if you are reading there. I would love to hear from you.