What is the Post-PC Era?

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Apple CEO Steve Jobs made headlines last week when he described the post-PC era as ushered in by the iPad and other tablets.

Apple CEO Steve JobsHe made the comments during an interview with Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital at the media giant’s D8 conference. Here’s the comment in full context as quoted from WSJ:

Mossberg: Is the tablet going to eventually replace the laptop?

Jobs: When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks, because that’s what you needed on the farm. But as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, cars got more popular. Innovations like automatic transmission and power steering and things that you didn’t care about in a truck as much started to become paramount in cars

This transformation is going to make some people uneasy, because the PC has taken us a long ways. It’s brilliant. We like to talk about the post-PC era, but when it really starts to happen, it’s uncomfortable.

I think that we’re embarked on that. Is it the iPad? Who knows? Will it happen next year or five years from now or seven years from now? Who knows? But I think we’re headed in that direction.

So what exactly is the post-PC era Jobs describes? I don’t think Jobs thought it through completely, because I wouldn’t describe today’s transportation situation as the post-truck era. But to his point, does he too casually dismiss the PC?

After all, if one assumes his iPad is the tablet of the future, content creators will be the ones left toiling away in the PC era because they’ll need traditional PC peripherals to write their blogs, design their pages and edit their videos and podcasts. Jobs even admitted as much in the same interview, claiming, “PCs are going to be like trucks. They’re still going to be around, they’re still going to have a lot of value, but they’re going to be used by one out of X people.”

The fact remains that the keyboard and mouse have proven over time to be the most efficient means to input data into a device. The QWERTY keyboard dates back to the 1870s, and according to according to Tim Morton, a design director at Product Development Technologies, a product design consulting firm, it’s here to stay.

“You’re always going to have a physical input device, and the keyboard has lived through many technologies,” he said. “It’s engrained. It’s almost like you’re born knowing the key layout these days.”

The same can be said for the mouse. It’s advantage is scalability. A centimeter of physical mouse movement can translate to a couple inches on the screen. Imagine tweaking an image in Photoshop or isolating a beat in Pro Tools without that ability.

Mossberg actually pressed Jobs about this very point in the same interview.

Mossberg: There are a lot of people who don’t believe that this class of devices because of the typing and all that is right for content creation.

Jobs: Why wouldn’t they [tablets] be is the question. You could say, “When I’m going to write that 35-page analyst report, I want to use my Bluetooth keyboard,” but that’s 1% of the time I’m using it. Your vision would have to be fairly short to say that these things can’t over time grow into toolsthat can do many things.

Apple iPad

By grow into tools that can do any things does Jobs really mean connect to a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse? Wouldn’t that make his iPad closer to PCs than tablets?

But, Jobs may be right. In conversations I’ve had about the ipad with tech analysts and experts, they are very quick to tout the iPad’s surprising productivity. Some on the TechnologyGuide editorial staff rely on the ipad and an external keyboard as their travel computer. And in his Apple iPad review, TabletPCReview’s Ed Hardy claimed:

The Apple iPad makes a great second computer. Pair it with a high-powered desktop and you’ll have a setup that gives you what you need: both power and portability. You can have adesktop in your homeoffice with a huge screen and no real constraints for heavy lifting — gaming, video encoding, that sort of thing — and an iPad for thing like Facebook and email when you’re in the living room. Plus it won’t get too hot to hold in your lap, and you won’t have to keep it plugged in.

What do you think? What exactly does Jobs mean by the post-PC era? Will we ever see the PC become a secondary device?

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