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I think the terms "post-PC world" or "post-PC era" will occupy the tech media for a while. It is often unclear what people really mean when they use these terms, and it is obvious that not everyone uses them in the same sense. Steve Jobs is one of the most prominent figures who loves this term, and he hardly misses an occasion to use it.
Unfortunately, much confusion exists in the media about what Steve Jobs means by a post-PC world. A good example is Mark Gartenberg from Macworld.com, who thinks that "post PC" just means what comes "after" the PC in the sense what comes "next," but not that tablets will actually replace PCs. Rest assured that this is not what Steve Jobs has in mind.
At the All Things Digital conference last year, Jobs admitted that PCs will still be around in the post-PC world, but he also clearly said that they will play only a minor role. He compared PCs to trucks, saying that trucks had been the major mode of transportation in the pre-industrialized world but now "post-truck vehicles"—that is, cars—rule on the streets. So it is not just the word "post" that delivers the important message. It is also the word "world." Steve Jobs is talking about a "post-PC world," a world where post-PC products dominate on the data highways, and PCs play only a negligible role. Obviously, this means that post-PC devices will not just "replace that second or third PC someone was thinking of buying," as Mark Gartenberg thinks, at least not in the sense that Steve Jobs uses the term "post PC."
I think the significance of "world" in this context should be clear now. Let's see what "post PC" actually is. At the launch event of the iPad 2, Jobs gave three examples of post-PC products: iPod, iPhone, and iPad. What makes them post-PC devices?
Steve Jobs names three major characteristics of post-PC devices:
- Post-PC devices marry technology with liberal arts.
- Post-PC devices are easier and more intuitive to use than PCs.
- In post-PC devices, hardware and software are intertwined in a more seamless way than they do on PCs.
These three definitions don't contain the usual terms when people talk about Steve Jobs' post-PC devices, such as "tablet," "touch," "curated computing," etc. However, it is obvious that these three definitions are just abstract formulations of these features. For instance, curated computing is one way to make post-PC devices easier to use, and touch makes them more intuitive to use.
The liberal arts factor makes post-PCs not just useful technology but well-designed gadgets that "make our hearts sing," as Jobs expressed it. Thus, an iPhone is not only a piece of high-tech equipment that you can use to call people or check your email—it is also your beloved companion that you need to touch all day.
The third definition says that the software has to fit the way the hardware is used. For instance, you can't use an operating system that was developed for desktops on a tablet because you need a tablet only for a subset of typical PCs tasks. Thus, the tablet has to be optimized for its major tasks, like surfing the web, checking your email, or reading an eBook.
Obviously, if the hardware and the software come from the same vendor, they can be made to fit perfectly together. Even a dedicated tablet OS that runs on the hardware of different manufacturers can hardly be seamlessly intertwined with the hardware because the user experience also depends on the stability of the device, which you can't achieve if too many players are involved.
I believe that this relatively abstract talk of post-PC devices indicates that Steve Jobs doesn't say that tablets will replace PCs. What he really means is that a new way to design computers of all kinds will dominate the post-PC world. This is why an iPod is also a post-PC device. Obviously, an iPod can't replace a PC. It is the way in which the iPod was designed that makes it a post-PC device, and those new types of computers will rule the post-PC world.
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Please note that in this post I only tried to clarify what Steve Jobs is actually saying when he is talking about the post-PC world. Whether or not his definition of the term "post PC" really make sense, and whether post-PC devices will make PCs more or less irrelevant in the world that Steve Jobs envisions, are the topics of my next post.