The hoopla coming out of Apple this week notwithstanding, the PC is very much alive in a post-PC world. Here's why.
Remember the "bring-out-your-dead" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail? John Cleese's medieval peasant tries to get Eric Idle's Dead Collector to cart away a plague victim. But the old fellow draped over Cleese's shoulder is very much alive and keeps insisting, "I'm not dead."
"He says he's not dead," the Collector responds.
"Well, he will be soon," says Cleese's peasant. "He's very ill."
Anyway, this clip kept looping in my head as I was crafting this column. For a while now, skeptics have been leaving the PC all but buried by the burgeoning ranks of smartphones and tablets. But at last week's Computex expo in Taipai, Intel, Microsoft, Asus, Acer, and others made it very clear the PC remains full of life.
It was an especially pointed rejoinder, arriving as it did on the eve of the Apple developers' conference, which dominated the headlines this week. And I have no doubt some of you are grumbling as you read this about what must seem like a monkey wrench thrown into to your well-oiled plans to start deploying tablets to the corporate users for whom you so lovingly care. But you might do well to reconsider.
Let's give credit where it's due. Microprocessor and mobile market analyst Mike Feibus saw this coming before I did. He predicted the huge Asian tech exhibition would spawn a series of product introductions to prove reports of the PC's demise very much premature.
Feibus has been following Intel, AMD, ARM, Qualcomm, and other chipmakers for years. His contacts made it obvious that Intel, which has thrived on institutionalized paranoia, wasn't going to cede the future to Apple or Google. So under the auspices of its Ultrabook initiative--similar in sheer sweep to its 2003 market-making Centrino Wi-Fi campaign--Intel began addressing the weaknesses the tablet exploited.
En route, it forged an entire Intel Inside ecosystem--processor, chipset, storage, I/O, display, materials, and more--to make a machine thinner, lighter, and longer-lasting.
Even though the implications of Intel's efforts were becoming apparent to insiders like Feibus, it took the Computex coming-out party to give concrete expression to them.
I didn't make the trip to Taipei, but I found myself scouring several reports about the new systems unveiled there, including a preview and a slideshow by InformationWeek's Paul McDougall.
You can see for yourself the commonality among them. One system especially stood out as a bellwether: The Acer Iconia W700. For the sake of brevity, I'll spare you the geek speak. Suffice it to say it sported a Windows 8 Metro touchscreen OS, a 11.6-inch display, a powerful yet power-efficient third generation Intel Core processor (a.k.a., Ivy Bridge), USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt I/O ports.
"It's positioned as a tablet," Feibus observed. "But with those big, fat pipes, that system can be anything you want it to be." And anything means that, along with a keyboard and some software, it can also serve your laptop and desktop, too.
One system to replace them all? In so averring, Feibus touched on the ultimate significance of the coming crop of--what would you call them? If a smartphone meeting a tablet is called a "phablet," what's a tablet meeting a laptop meeting a desktop? A tabtop? Lapdesk?
Whatever, these hybrids aren't your father's convertible. (You remember those, right? The ones that brought Microsoft OneNote into being.) Not only are the hybrid tablet manufacturers accommodating them to prevailing user tastes, they're also positioning these systems to satisfy a maxim Feibus has been touting for years.
Mike's maxim: People want just two--count 'em two--devices, one for the pocket and one for the briefcase.
Yet, many of us, including me, tote three, or more. I have a smartphone in my pocket. But invariably into my backpack I throw my laptop and an iPad, and sometimes I'll even toss in the iPad's companion Bluetooth keyboard I bought, too.
Even though my iPad does a good job of replicating my laptop, I just can't wean myself away from the raw horsepower I obsessively believe I'll need to be fully productive when I'm working in the office, at home, or on the road.
My aching back--literally--requires me to concur with Feibus. I don't want to lug a laptop and a tablet. While tablets are quickly achieving advantage in this tussle for briefcase supremacy, it's not time to count out the laptop PC. In fact, by adhering to Mike's maxim, Intel, Microsoft, and PC makers are getting close to laying a hand on tech's real Holy Grail: Less is always more.
Or at least maybe that's why another line from the not-dead-yet guy slung over Cleese's shoulder keeps echoing in my head, and it's one PC makers may be sing-songing too: "I feel happyyy. I feel happyyy."
Patrick Houston is the co-founder of MediaArchiTechs. He is a former SVP for a new media startup, a GM at Yahoo, and editor-in-chief at CNET.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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