The Post-PC Era: Humbug

The Post-PC Era: Humbug

If you pay attention to technology news at all, you might have heard the term “post-pc era” tossed about.  This term was, if not coined, then certainly nurtured most heartily by Steve Jobs when talking about the iPad.  It’s a funny thing about the iPad: when it was first announced everybody just sort of shrugged and said “So what?  It’s just a big iPhone!”  But people bought them anyway and it turned out that there was indeed a huge market for these devices.  Now we use them for all sorts of things, and I will admit that my tablet gets me through most of my casual computer usage at home.  Web browsing, book reading, video watching, etc. are now all accomplished on a piece of plastic and glass that fits comfortably in my hand and has a battery that lasts all day.  Tablet computers have seen a much faster adoption rate than PCs did, and this popularity has many in the media and at Apple singing the PC's death.  How wrong they all are.  

Now, I love my tablet, a Google Nexus 7, very much, just as I’ve loved a few iPads.  They are fantastic devices that ingeniously condense the casual computing experience and are pulling off a lot of tricks, especially in the education and gaming worlds, that the PC never could.  In essence, tablets are wonderful appliances, but novel though they may be, their utility still pales in comparison to your PC. For the purposes of this article, let me define the PC as the classic desktop or laptop computer that could be running Windows, Mac, or Linux. So definitely pick up a tablet if you’ve got the spare money, but never at the expense of even a reasonably-priced lower-end PC.  Here are a few reasons.

Word Processing
I don’t think much needs to be written on this subject.  Strange that I’m going to anyway.  The virtual keyboard of a tablet or smartphone is passable for casual use, but when you need to do some serious typing, nothing can or probably will replace the utility of a physical keyboard.  Yes, you can attach a bluetooth keyboard to most tablets, with many of them custom-made for the iPad, but tablets were never intended to be used with keyboards; Apple would never turn down the licensing money from its “Made for iPad” label, but I’m sure Steve Jobs felt that a keyboard attachment for the iPad detracted from its overall design aesthetic.  

The keyboard isn’t the only consideration, however.  A keyboard paired with a touchscreen is a tricky beast, especially when attempting a letter-specific correction in a word; a keyboard with a mouse, on the other hand, offers pixel-perfect control.  

Finally, no one has yet developed a tablet word processor that is as feature-rich as Microsoft Office.  I’m no great defender of many things about Office - I feel that it’s become bloated and horribly over-priced, but it’s still the best game in town and is adding wonderful features with every version.  And if you don’t feel like paying a minimum of $120 for the most basic version of Office, you can download free office suites from LibreOffice or Kingsoft that will still beat anything tablets can do.  A tablet will give you minimal editing ability, but if you’re a professional writer or editor, you need to be using a PC.  

Graphic and Animation Design
I know very little about this world, except to say that Pixar movies aren’t rendered and won’t be rendered on tablet computers any time soon.  While Adobe Photoshop Touch does a better job of professional editing than any other tablet app out there, it’s still a pale shadow of its full PC version. You’d think that a touchscreen and image editing would be a match made in heaven, but in fact powerful graphic editing needs a mouse pointer to be truly powerful.  

File Management
This is true more of iPads than of Android tablets, but since the iPad basically defines the tablet market, I feel comfortable saying this: file management on tablets is horrible.  With the iPad, there is no central file storage - each app creates its own storage that is not shareable with other apps.  And I don’t see Apple changing that anytime soon, certainly not in the upcoming iOS 6 - it goes against their very design, which is essentially trading true computing power for ease-of-use. Proper file management and the ability to easily copy, paste, and share files is very important for prolific content creators from all walks of life and professions.  Lack of good file management hamstrings the mobile experience in a serious way.

Media Viewing
In order to have a truly universal video- and music-playing device, you need a Windows PC.  You have no idea how much it pains me to say this, I wish it weren’t so.  But the truth is that mobile devices cannot natively play many audio and video formats; Macs cannot, last I checked, play Windows DRM-protected media files; Flash was never supported on iPads and is being phased out from Android; and Linux machines cannot play either Apple or Windows DRM content, or at least, not without some serious tweaking, and Flash is being phased out of Linux as well.  If you want easy access to absolutely every type of media format out there, you’ll want to stick with Windows, at least for a while longer.  I’d love to tell you that every platform can play every type of media file, but copy protection schemes have made that, to date, impossible.  If you’re getting a computing device for entertainment purposes, make it a Windows PC.  Ugh - I feel like a sellout . . .

The iPad has one port and will never, ever add more.  If you want to do things like connect it to an HDMI projector, a real microphone, an instrument, or any number of other peripherals, you need to buy yourself an adapter.  And those adapters?  They will cost you dearly.  What’s worse, the rumor is the next generation of iDevices will feature newly-designed docking ports, so if you’re keen on staying with the latest and greatest from Cupertino, get ready to shell out some more for adapters!  Android devices are guilty of this as well, albeit to a lesser degree.  Most of them feature micro-USB ports, which automatically makes them much more connectable than iPads, and a select few also feature mini-HDMI ports for connecting to HDTVs and projectors.  My lovely Nexus 7 is guilty of port-dearth, not to mention lack of . . . wait for it . . .

The most storage you can get for an iPad is 64GB; for Android devices, provided they have micoSD card slots, you could get up to 96GB (more for a few rare devices).  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but all our videos and pictures and music are taking up more and more space and the average PC hard drive has between 250 and 500GB of storage.  Is that not enough?  Then go buy a larger hard drive!  Sure we’ve been making the move increasingly toward streaming media from services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify, iCloud, and others, but thanks to bandwidth caps there’s only so much streaming a person can do, so local storage is still extremely appealing (hey, did you read my article on backing up your stuff?).  This will be less of a problem very quickly, or at least I hope it will, as storage gets smaller and cheaper at exponential rates.  For now, limited storage is a huge reason to favor a PC purchase over a tablet purchase.  

Now please don’t take this as a hate piece against tablets; far from it, I think I’ve made my love for them clear in this and past articles.  I simply want you to know what to expect from them and make an informed decision.  If it comes down to tablet vs PC, I hope you now are better armed to make that choice.