Are We In The Post-PC Era?

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For the last 30 years, computers have empowered common people with access to a wide range of facilities of the Internet from their home and office. Computers have truly democratized the power to get the information one needs and boosted personal productivity.

While describing technological trends in 2010, Steve Jobs famously declared that we have reached the beginning of the post-PC (post-personal computer) era. He acknowledged that the PCs have taken us a long way and that the transition could have been lengthy and uncomfortable for some people. The remark caused a stir among observers of the technological landscape in the post-iPad era. As if to underscore Jobs, Mark Dean, a veteran computer engineer, who had worked on IBM 150, which set the understand and design for PCs, 30 years ago, said that PCs were designed to go the way of the typewriter, the vacuum tube and vinyl record.

The question currently posed by many is: are we really in the post-PC era? Is the PC, which has changed the way we work and play, fading away? Has the computer, described by Jobs himself as the bicycle of the mind, destined to go places you never go before, is now morphing into some other vehicle?

Perhaps the most dramatic trend in recent years is the growth of smartphones and tablet computers. Smartphones (which can provide access to the Internet in the mobile mode and tablets), let people download and install applications or ‘apps’ from online stores run by phone makers, telecom companies and others, displacing ordinary mobile phones. The line between mobile devices and PCs is blurring. There is growing perception that smartphones should be as capable as a PC. Smartphones have Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating system (free open source-based platform). Promoters of Ubuntu (Linux-based desktop OS) have called upon developers to write apps for mobile platforms. Mozilla Foundation is also developing an OS.

Smartphones and Tablets

The PC is changing in terms of shape, size, mobility and function. But it cannot be pronounced dead. Windows-based PCs numbering 1.2 billion worldwide is proof of its relevance. Some 550 million PCs are expected to be sold in 2015. Windows OS is still used in more than 90 per cent of the world’s PCs. Hence, Bill Gates has described the emerging trend as PC-Plus era, which he says would be just as revolutionary, what with novel devices yet to be designed. True, the days of Wintel (which indicates dominance by Windows and Intel) are on the decline.

The combined shipments of smartphones and tablets will overtake those of PCs. The trend towards mobile computing is seen in the decline of PC sales. According to Gartner. Technology analysis, the worldwide personal computer market showed a flat to single-digit growth, in seven consecutive quarters ended June 2012. And the trend is likely to continue.

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It is predicted that one billion smartphones will be sold worldwide in 2014. The phenomenal rise of mobile devices is expected to decrease the role of desktop computing. The PC is not what it has been a few years ago. It is no longer stationary. It is now ubiquitous. With geo-location sensors and smartphones, the computer is increasingly mobile. Leading chip-makers cater to mobile devices Google has invested heavily in purchasing Motorola’s mobile phone system with all its patents – a move that signals the emerging path of computing. Nokia (a cell phone maker) with Microsoft’s Windows phone software provides a third alternative to Apple and Google, which are leading in the mobile business. Forrester Research says the PC is not formal but casual with its ‘always on’ feature. The PC is no longer kept at arm’s length but has become intimate as seen in tablets. We are no longer hooked to desktops and laptops.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet can function as a laptop it looks and works as a tablet but you can hold it on one hand and draw on it with the other. It can go from a tablet to PC mode in two seconds. It can run any of the Windows programmes like Photoshop besides Word, PowerPoint and Excel. It has a high-definition resolution and tablet has a kickstand.

The iPad is described not as a computer but a delivery channel for digital description of video online. Prior to the 1980s, all television was in the broadcast mode, supported by advertisements. This was followed by point-to-point wave guides in cable TV involving payment for access. Similarly, computing is also changing from being open and free on the Internet to closed system with apps (applications) on payment. Recent devices are task-specific or content-oriented at a cost. We may still have open platform computers serving a limited market for content creators. The emerging trend in the West seems to favour closed system such as the iPad.

The iPad’s impact goes beyond hardware. It has opened the tablet market for computers. It offers a wide range of creative activities such as drawing, music, sculpting, and photography. However, one should know how to programme the desired activity.

Google’s Android has no physical storage. All documents, e-mails and music are stored in the ‘cloud’ and are ‘always on’, accessible from any device viz. desktop, laptop, or mobile. The Apps built for small screen on mobiles have been adjusted to run on larger displays. Android-powered smartphones and tablet computers have captured new markets.

The iPad has now powerful rivals: Sony’s tablet, Samsung’s Galaxy tablet, and Research in Motion’s Playbook. The devices are overtaking PCs, especially in developed markers. Unleashed by the iPhone in 2007, mobile devices have been designed to provide a wide range of applications, known as apps.

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