Are You On Your Last PC? – The ‘Book Mystique

Will your current PC be your last? Quite possibly so if you define “personal computer” as a traditional desktop or laptop form factor machine according to some commentators. So then, the upshot that we’ll all be using tablets instead? Not necessarily, according to a cohort of pundits who contend that even tablet computers — not yet five years since Apple re-imagined what a tablet should be –have peaked and are becoming passé, pointing to a slump in iPad sales over three consecutive fiscal quarters as evidence.

So what then? Well, there appears to be a surprisingly large school of thought suggesting that large-screen smartphones — phablets — will be the mainstream personal computing device of the next phase, with smart watches perhaps filling the role of ultra portables currently filled by conventional smartphones.

Phablets Ascendent?

Seeking Alpha’s Michael Blair observes that The iPhone 6 is selling like hotcakes, and that it looks as if demand for the iPad is being negatively impacted by the latest iPhone’s surging popularity. He foresees sales of iPads falling to 50 million this year from 68 million in the company’s now completed fiscal 2014, and says his arithmetic suggests that Apple will do well to sell 10 to 15 million iPads this quarter, a drop of 11 to 16 million units, citing highly respected KGI Securities analyst Ming Chi Kuo projecting sales of approximately 21.5 million iPads during the Christmas period representing an 18% drop, and subsequently only 9.8 million units in the March quarter, which would be a 40% year-over-year decline. Meanwhile, Blair also cites market research firm IDC forecasting worldwide smartphone sales of 1.4 billion in 2015 with “phablets” making up 318 million units.

Photo Courtesy Apple

Those metrics notwithstanding, I remain unconvinced by gloomy prognoses of an iPad collapse and premature obituaries for the PC. There’s no way I can envision ever being content working on a display smaller than the 9.7-inch panel in my iPad, and frankly, I find it pretty cramped for many tasks. I really have trouble imagining trying to do serious production work day-in and day-out on a 5.5-inch screen. I think that the iPhones will continue to do well, but I suspect that the initial spike of enthusiasm for the iPhone 6 Plus phablet will level off and iPad sales will recover somewhat. There’s also Apple and IBM’s business software development and enterprise sales promotion coming on stream, which should have a beneficial effect on iPad as well as iPhone sales.

Not only that, I have the most powerful iPad Apple has yet built — an iPad Air 2 with a 64-bit A8 SoC, 2GB of RAM, and 64 GB of storage memory, but I find it In many instances falls well short of the power and practical efficiency of my year-old 13-inch MacBook Air.

Photo Courtesy Apple

I don’t need a huge 27-inch iMac display, or even a 17-inch laptop screen, although I enjoyed the latter during the four years I had one on my workhorse Mac. I find that 13-14 inches is a sweet spot for me as a compromise between display size and portability in a production machine. I find the prospect of a 12-13 inch iPad intriguing, and I figure the iPad mini’s 7.9-inch panel pretty much the lower extreme of screen size I would seriously consider doing for most of the stuff I do with computers.

As for the apparently growing popularity of watching feature films and television shows on 5.5-inch or smaller screens, I can see doing that if one is stuck somewhere with absolutely nothing else to do, but that’s where the appeal ends for me. I have occasionally used my iPad to access and catch up on a TV series episode I’ve missed, but even on the 9.7-inch display, I don’t consider it a quality viewing experience, and I much prefer my 40-inch LCD television.

However, The Register’s Mark Pesce maintains that “When even senior sysadmins work on an iPhone connected to an Apple TV, the end is nigh” [for PCs), noting: “In IT, the past is junk: too slow, too big, and too hard.”

I’ll go along with that to a degree. It explains why, despite its many limitations, I use my iPad for everything it does tolerably well as opposed to opting for the not exactly boat-anchor candidate MacBook Air. Pesce shares an anecdote about how as a university guest lecturer he recently used his new iPhone 6 to run an entire presentation consisting of more than an hour of video clips plus still slides, plugging the iPhone into the lecture theatre’s HDMI port. I admit that”s kinda’ cool, but I’d be really surprised to learn that he also prepared the presentation entirely on the iPhone, which would seem to me like a masochistic exercise.

He notes that the iPhone 6 is the second most powerful computer he owns — surpassed only by the top-of-the-line MacBook Air he concedes he used to compose his column predicting the end of the PC. The same applies to me with my MacBook Air and iPad Air 2 which is even more potent than the iPhone 6, And I actually do most of my composition on the iPad these days. But I still don’t perceive the iPad as being in anywhere near the same ballpark in terms of productive efficiency, and I don’t anticipate that dynamic changing radically in the foreseeable future. I love my iPad, but if forced to choose between having just one or the other device, I would pick the MacBook Air without hesitation or equivocation.

Pesce observes that the desktop has been dead for some years, “relegated to an afterlife of video editing and CAD,” and  that laptops keep getting smaller and more powerful — both indisputable points of fact, but I part company with his contention that “we’ve now reached a moment when [laptops are] less useful than our smartphones.” Not for me by a long shot. He concedes that the laptop market isn’t going to collapse overnight, citing inertia and acknowledges the fact that people like what they like and tend to use what they know, but he still argues that the current cycle of PC replacements is likely to be the last one, and that “the computer as we have known it, with integrated keyboard and display, has lost its purpose in a world of tiny, powerful devices that can cast to any nearby screen (Chromecast & AirPlay), browse any website, and run all the important apps. Why carry a boat anchor when you can be light as a feather?”

My riposte is that I do like what I like, and for many tasks I like my MacBook Air with its relatively uncramped human interface best, so why would I entertain ditching it? I use it not out of lazy familiarity, but because it is the best tool for many tasks, and still indispensable for some of them. In point of fact, my iPad Air 2, powerful as it is, does not run all the important apps, and even Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 — a tablet that does run the full slate of Windows desktop apps — has not exactly set the works on fire sales-wise.

Photo Courtesy Apple

Pesce observes that few mourned the death of the desktop, and he’s probably right, although I do know some desktop diehards, and that new 27-inch iMac is certainly a seductive piece of kit as our British friends would say.

Photo Courtesy Apple

However I never missed much of anything about my desktop Macs after I switched almost entirely to using laptops back in 1996, and I’ve advocated for years that laptops are the logical personal computer form factor. I would now expand that contention to include iPad mini size and larger tablets, but that’s. Where the line will email drawn for me. No matter how brilliant a 7-inch or smaller screen is, it’s still too tiny to take seriously as a workhorse canvas. And while one can connect a smartphone to an external keyboard and larger external display, in my estimation that defeats the purpose of an ultraportable general purpose PC. The self-containedness of a laptop or tablet is more elegant than a teensy device connected to an archipelago of peripherals.

That said my MacBooks have inevitably gotten lighter use since I got an iPad going on four years ago, and I’ve settled I to a motif of roughly 50-50 in terms of time proportionally spent on the two platforms respectively. Consequently, my interval for hardware upgrade cycles has extended from approximately 2 1/2 year intervals when I first began using PCs to just shy of four years for my last two laptop replacements and 3 1/2 years for my first iPad upgrade. But I don’t figure that the MacBook Air as powerful and delightful as it is, will be my last-ever laptop, or the iPad Air 2 my ultimate tablet, and I have to dispute Pesce’s projection that over the next decade, all of IT will reorient itself and transition from mobile-as-afterthought, through mobile-first, to mobile-only, even if mobile as a category includes the larger tablets.

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