A Brave New (Post-PC) World: 1/2

Personal computer. A term coined over three decades ago.

In its broadest sense, it can be used to describe nearly every computer in use today. But, when you hear the words “personal computer”, what comes to your mind? What machine do you envision?

Does it, perhaps, look like one of these?

A (Very) Brief History of the PC

A (Very) Brief History of the PC

Now, what do you think of when you hear “PC”?

Ah, a little different perhaps? In theory, your mind should elaborate that acronym into the words “personal computer”, but in practice that isn’t always the case. If you’re a Mac user you probably think of one of those inhospitable beige boxes of yesteryear, or maybe you think of John Hodgeman. Conversely, it could be that Microsoft’s marketing has worn off on you, and you identify any Windows user as a PC.

There’s little doubt though, that the acronym “PC” has become a term all of its own, representing a certain class of computing device. While the more generic term of “personal computer” will probably be applicable to any and all electronic devices to appear in the near future, the moniker of “PC” won’t be.

At least not if Steve Jobs has his way. Acknowledging that the PC wars are over, Mr. Jobs has set his sights on new verdant territory. His pioneer in the field is the iOS platform and the iDevices that support it. For Apple, it’s a brave, new post-PC world.

Hold On… Post-PC?

The very term post-PC, intrinsically implies that the PC era has ended. Hence my introduction, explaining that “PC” has its own definition, set apart from its predecessor; the personal computer.

Personal computing itself is clearly far from over. If anything, the wide range of post-PC devices will be more personal then their boxy brethren. John Gruber of Daring Fireball notoriety remarks on a missed opportunity in his piece entitled The Chair:

It’s a shame, almost, that we squandered the term “personal computer” 30 years ago.

Gruber’s definitely on to something here. This new crop of devices seem infinitely more personal than the original home computer’s were!

So if it isn’t the personal nature of computing that’s changing, just what is? Why the need for the distinction? What’s so different about the iPad and the style of computing that it represents that warrants the cry for a new era in computing itself?

It believe it has to do with what the label “PC” represents.

Stuck On You

Walk into any electronics store today and you’ll see an expansive room divided into sections. We human beings love to categorize things. It gives us a sense of control over the world around us and, for the most part, our world behaves as expected, fitting nicely into the little compartments we’ve built for it.

We examine the traits of something, stick a label on it, and file it away. We know it now. We understand it. We’ve seen things like it before, and we’ll see them again.

It’s rare that something comes around that defies definition. Whether that’s due to its capabilities, its form-factor, or the way people use it. It confounds us when parts of this new thing could fit into any number of categories.

It plays music and movies, but it’s more than a personal media player. We can browse the web and do our email, but it’s far more than a dedicated Internet device. You can install an exciting array of applications to do new and wonderful things, but not just any applications, only those that appear in a boutique store curated by the device’s creators.

You can write documents and spreadsheets, and share slideshow presentations. But there’s no hardware keyboard, just a simple piece of glass. As a whole, this device doesn’t fit into any known category. Where does it belong?

It belongs in a class by itself.

We’ve decided to label these post-PC devices. Steve Jobs lauded loudly and clearly at the iPad 2 announcement that this is where the iPad 2 belongs. And since then, the term has spread like wildfire. But, what exactly qualifies as a post-PC device? And are they the harbingers of doom for the forsaken PC?

Your Thoughts

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections on the questions posed above, feel free to comment below! The second section of this discussion will be posted later this week, delving deeper into the debate surround the post-PC device.