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PCs Tell Tablets: We're Not Dead Yet

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.

[ Convergence is coming. Should Your Next Smartphone Be A Phablet? ]

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 patrick.houston@mediaarchitechs.com.

InformationWeek is conducting a survey on Windows 8 adoption. Upon completion of our survey, you will be eligible to enter a drawing to receive a 16-GB Apple iPad. Take our InformationWeek 2012 Windows 8 Survey now. Survey ends June 15.

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User Rank: Apprentice
6/16/2012 | 7:31:15 AM
re: PCs Tell Tablets: We're Not Dead Yet
"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."

This is the common defense for the PC, "horsepower". It makes no sense. Nearly everything people use their computer, regardless of form factor, is online. If it is online, the "horsepower" on your computer, client side, doesn't matter as all of the processing is done on a server. The only factor which will impact your performance is connection rate (how fast you can get what is being computed on the server back to your client device for presentation). The last bastion of PC applications are productivity (spreadsheets, word processing, etc) and that is rapidly moving to the server with 365, Google Apps, etc. Everything else runs on a server via a browser or app. PC "horsepower" really doesn't matter in almost all cases.
Bob Forsberg
Bob Forsberg,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/15/2012 | 2:21:43 AM
re: PCs Tell Tablets: We're Not Dead Yet
Desktops w/ large HD display will replace smaller TVs...the real all-in-one computer with TV tuner built in.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/14/2012 | 4:02:30 PM
re: PCs Tell Tablets: We're Not Dead Yet
The power a desktop offers is also why I will probably always be a desktop user... well, the power, the software and the operating system. I just can't imagine a tablet running my favored Linux distribution and the software I rely on being optimized for a touch interface - or rather, choosing to use a touch interface to work with that software. Great article. Thanks for sharing it with us.
User Rank: Apprentice
6/14/2012 | 12:28:00 PM
re: PCs Tell Tablets: We're Not Dead Yet
The challenge for PC makers (and OS makers such as Microsoft and Linux) is to continue to push development of hardware/features that require the more robust CPU and device connectivity options that PCs offer (robust USB device support, PCMCIA (or whatever they are calling it these days), etc...
Microsoft Kinect is an example, develop more things like this that can solve problems for consumers and aren't able to be run on tablets. Also integrate the best of tablets into PCs for example laptops should have (they should have had it 3 years ago) GPS so they can leverage the location information.
robin oliver
robin oliver,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/13/2012 | 8:34:04 PM
re: PCs Tell Tablets: We're Not Dead Yet
bingo! why is it taking us all so long to understand the user requirements of consumers vs creators? ummm... perhaps because the IT poobahs are themselves mostly consumers...? i don't even want to talk about the IT press and the rapture of hype...
User Rank: Strategist
6/13/2012 | 7:13:14 PM
re: PCs Tell Tablets: We're Not Dead Yet
It still comes back to the consumer/creator divide. A tablet is all the typical information consumer needs, but is crippling for a creator; the small screen is bad, the imprecise pointing is frequently terrible, and typing on a flat piece of glass is AWFUL.

Creators will continue to need laptops and desktops; folks watching Friends reruns just don't need the extra weight. Over the next few years, you'll mark yourself by what you carry.
User Rank: Ninja
6/13/2012 | 6:38:54 PM
re: PCs Tell Tablets: We're Not Dead Yet
Some people have been saying the same thing about Mainframes for decades but they are still being sold & still being used for many of the most important computing tasks in many big businesses.
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