Why the PC?

Apple's CEO might have mused on the reasons for a PC in the age of the iPad Pro and he has got Billy MacInnes thinking about the humble desktop and its role

“I think if you’re looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore. No really, why would you buy one?”

The question was posed by Apple CEO Tim Cook to a group of journalists at an event for the iPad Pro in the Covent Garden Apple Store recently.

Unsurprisingly, he asked the question as a means of talking up the iPad Pro, suggesting people who tried Apple’s superiPad would “start using it and conclude they no longer need to use anything else, other than their phones”.

As they say in Scotland, “I hae ma doots”. It’s true that sales of PCs are declining but it doesn’t follow that they’re falling at the expense of tablets. In fact, the tablet market has troubles of its own. IDC recently revised its 2015 forecast for tablet shipments, predicting a decline of 8% (compared to its original prediction of a 3.8% fall).

IDC noted that that the commercial market had been “very reluctant to migrate toward tablets”, largely due to an unclear value proposition. While 2-in-1 tablets, a category which includes Microsoft’s Surface product line and the iPad Pro, would find opportunities within the commercial market, IDC said IT buyers had been “slow to move toward mobile devices beyond smartphones and do not yet see tablets or 2-in-1s as a true PC replacement”.

Nevertheless, it was upbeat over the prospects for 2-in-1s. Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director for Tablets at IDC argued that once IT departments had evaluated the Surface Pro and iPad Pro, “they will start migrating some of their portable PC and tablet installed base towards 2-in-1s, which will accelerate the adoption of the form factor”.

The message from IDC was more nuanced than Cook’s appeared to be but they were more or less on the same page in terms of explaining why larger tablets might be successful. While IDC said IT buyers did not yet see them as a true PC replacement, Cook argued that once they started to use the devices, they would be quickly convinced of their effectiveness as a PC replacement.

It’s a difference of emphasis to some extent but the crucial point is that IT vendors like Microsoft and Apple need to get their devices into the hands of commercial users if they are to have any prospect of becoming viable PC replacements.

Even so, I find it difficult to see the cause for Cook’s bullishness. Also, as the head of a company which now holds fourth place in the top five global PC makers, I’m not sure he should be making such unequivocal comments about the merits of the iPad Pro compared to PCs.

In the same week, Cook made a little joke in a speech at Trinity College, Dublin when he revealed how honoured he was to be in a city where some of the most enduring literary works of all time were produced. “They were produced by hand and by typewriter,” Cook said. “Imagine what they could have done with an iPad.”

Try as I might to imagine it, I’m far from reassured that having access to an iPad would have radically improved the works of WB Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Brendan Behan. Would Yeats, for example, have been able to find the meditative contemplation required to write Long-Legged Fly with its refrain,

“Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence”

on an iPad with his thoughts incessantly interrupted by an alert for an incoming email, text message or notification? Would he be able to resist playing another level of Candy Crush or looking at just one more funny cat video on Facebook? How would anyone using an iPad be able to understand a mind able to move upon silence?

A more apposite (and well-worn) Yeats couplet to describe the effect of modern IT devices and their constant distraction and interruptions on human culture and thought process can probably be found in The Second Coming:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

I suspect there are quite a few IT buyers and channel partners out there murmuring: “My sentiments, exactly.”

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Well, quite interesting thoughts and opinion from Apple CEO, but the common concerns about tablets will stay long and PC market will display a significant growth for a long time. Why? For an example, many tablets users still worry about heating and battery dying issues.

Though, iPad Pro and Microsoft's Surface product line give us two good options, but it's a bit hard to get used to with one small screen when we're used to multiple monitors :)
Like any company, Apple's CEO needs to really consider why people use tablets vs PCs. If you're a writer, it's not that easy to use a tablet vs a laptop. Apple and any tablet makers need to do some research on why do people use or prefer the PC over a tablet. I use my tablet for games. That's about it. I use my laptop far more as it's easier and faster to type on a keyboard. If the iPadPro has a big screen, what's the point in being a tablet?
At this current point in time, there are just some things that are better done on a desktop PC (yes, even over a laptop), and my answer may be tainted by the fact I work with development and with creative endeavors. I am hard pressed to see the day that video production is handled on a tablet (not to say it can't happen, but I'd be surprised if any tablet will be able to keep up with a healthy chunk of pig iron under a desk with multiple processors, lots of disk and parallel compiling and rendering. Also, I've yet to see a tablet that gives me as comfortable working interface as my laptop. Typing on the screen feels clunky, and the add-on keyboards feel cramped and tedious. Plus, as BODHost sums up, once you get the feel of working with multi-monitor rigs, it's awfully hard to go back to a single screen. As of now, tablets are not in a position to replicate that experience, at least not yet. therefore, I feel the death of the desktop and laptop PC (pick your OS of choice) will be quite a ways off.
Where you bring up a good point Michael, the use of video production requires a large amount of storage and memory. A tablet simply doesn't have those resources available where a laptop can easily handle the storage and memory requirements.
Because PC's is where the content is produced and tablets / phones is where it's consumed but rarely produced.

It's really not about computational powers.

Any serious and continuous work requires setting. When you get at your work desk and look through the working mess your mind "loads up" the working state and gets on to it. The price of a PC is really small comparing to the salary of a productive worker.