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Summary:

On the occasion of the launch of the second generation of Apple’s iPad tablet, CEO Steve Jobs essentially declared the end of the two-decade…

iPad 2 Video
photo: Apple

On the occasion of the launch of the second generation of Apple’s iPad tablet, CEO Steve Jobs essentially declared the end of the two-decade PC era.

“These are post-PC devices that need to be even easier to use than the PC, and even more intuitive,” Jobs said at the end of Wednesday’s iPad 2 launch event in San Francisco, using the phrase “post-PC” a dozen or so times in reflecting on the year since Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) once again put the PC and consumer electronics industries on notice with the launch of the original iPad. Just like the iPhone in 2007, the iPad is quickly showing that people are finally ready for a more intimate computing experience than the one provided by their laptops but now, they want it in an easier to read and use package than a smartphone.

Apple shipped 15 million iPads in the 9 months following its March shipping date through the close of the year. That’s “more than every Tablet PC ever sold,” Jobs cracked, referring to Microsoft’s failed attempt to drive a similar idea into the computer industry a decade ago with its Tablet PC software. Ten years ago the hardware simply wasn’t capable of providing a lightweight computing experience, and Microsoft’s pen-based user interface wasn’t all that popular outside the hardcore geek crowd.

But now all the planets are aligning around lightweight 9-inch-or-so screens that can go all day on a single battery charge and fit comfortably in a purse or backpack. These devices are also allowing software developers and designers to break free their reliance on the keyboard (based on the 19-century typewriter) and mouse input devices to a more natural series of buttons, gestures, and even voice commands. Jobs talked about the dawn of this “post-PC era” last year at the D: All Things Digital conference, but offered numbers and evidence Wednesday that suggests we’re already there.

There’s nothing particularly notable about the iPad 2 as compared to the original. Sure, it’s thinner, faster, and more capable than the original, but it’s basically the same device in terms of what it allows the user to accomplish (modest exceptions such as iMovie and GarageBand aside).

But what it does do is cement Apple’s reputation as the catalyst for this “post-PC” era.

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), the architect of the PC era, is barely present in the so-called “connected devices” market, which for the sake of this discussion includes smartphones, tablets, and ereaders like the Kindle. Google (NSDQ: GOOG) is making a valiant attempt to play the foil to Apple’s ambitions but is just getting its first Android version designed specifically for tablets out the door. HP (NYSE: HPQ) and RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) have presented interesting ideas, but have nothing in the market yet.

Apple is 15 million devices into the tablet portion of this era (which doesn’t even count the 100 million iPhones that have shipped to date) and will have its second take out in two weeks, with many expecting they’ll have another more capable model available as soon as this fall. Just as Google’s Android has caught up to the iPhone’s lead, there’s plenty of reason to believe that Apple won’t necessarily have the tablet space to itself forever. But for now, it basically does.

Jobs and Apple believe that their integrated model–in which a single tightly-knit company designs the hardware, software, and services around the device–is the only thing that can succeed in such an era. That’s certainly open for debate: Apple can argue its method produces the “best” device but that leaves plenty of room for those who are willing to cater to other parts of the market, as we’ve seen with smartphones.

It does, however, mean that any publisher or software developer looking to target the tablet experience has no choice but to pay attention to the iPad, because design-by-partners takes time and pain. In the PC era, PC companies like Dell and HP essentially ceded most design decisions to Microsoft and Intel (NSDQ: INTC) and wound up having to compete tooth and nail on price and brightly colored designs. Phone and tablet makers would like to avoid such a fate.

Discussion of a “post-PC” doesn’t mean that all of a sudden PCs suddenly vanish. Just like television didn’t really “kill” radio, and like computers have yet to kill televisions, there’s room for multiple devices in the average home or office and years of opportunity to make money off the PC.

But it does mean that if tech and media companies want to stay relevant over the next decade, they need to pay attention to these trends, which are not flashes in the pan. (See: netbooks) They represent nothing less than a dramatic new opportunity to break free of the constraints of the PC era and invent new ways to combine human ingenuity and processing power.

We wouldn’t have gotten here without the PC, but we’re ready to move beyond it. A generation of kids born after the development of the World Wide Web in 1995 is about to get their driver’s licenses, and they’ll be off at college after that. They’ll probably want some sort of keyboard to type up their term papers, but they are increasingly consuming media on phones and tablets.

And at the moment, Apple offers easily the strongest combination of product, price, and services for those interested in the tablet market. Jobs said time and time again Wednesday that he believes 2011 will be the year of the iPad 2, and while that remains to be seen, it’s clearly going to be the year of the tablet.

Take our poll: Do you plan on buying the iPad 2?

  1. I sit at my desk and work with over 2 terabytes of storage, two screens, an audio studio and there’s another identical system in the other office. Oh, and I can listen to my mp3′s on my desktop also. I take my Epic into the can for news. I listen to music on my ITouch. But I don’t think an iPad is going to replace my work station.

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  2. $500AShareIsAnnoying!}:-D Thursday, March 3, 2011

    I love to hear that term “post-PC era”. For some reason it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Unfortunately, even Steve Jobs can’t play Jean-Luc Picard telling First Officer Ryker to “Make it so”. Windows PCs will be around for a long time. They certainly still serve a purpose. Mobile devices are nice, but I still want some big iron at home for serious data-crunching. The funny thing is the latest MacBook Pros are more powerful than earlier Mac Pros of a couple of years ago which is astounding. I still like the idea of having multiple hard-drives and PCI slots.

    It’ll be interesting to see if tablets like the iPad 2 can replace the desktops of businesses. Obviously, not the ones that require Microsoft Office or CAD software, but many of the salespeople’s Windows PCs and laptops. Interesting times ahead for Microsoft, indeed.

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  3. I’m probably going to be sending most of my emails from a device with a QWERTY keyboard for a long time to come. I know you can wireless-ly employ QWERTY keyboards with the iPad, but if I’m going to go to the trouble to get a keyboard, I might as well go to something with a bigger screen and with the CPU power I need. Apple will likely continue to have success, but unless they learn to work well with third party hardware manufacturers and loosen some of the control they desperately try to keep, they’re going to go down the same dead end road they’ve gone before.

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  4. And another thing: What do I need to perform an upgrade to my iPhone or my friend’s iPad? A PC. It’s kinda funny to say “The ERA of the PC is OVER” when the device requires a PC to perform backups or to complete a software upgrade.

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  5. I have to agree with the opinion that PCs are going to be around for a while yet . It strikes me that there is alwys going to be a need for something with a keyboard and CPU power , plus the ‘anchoring effect’ that a desktop and proper screen gives when your’e working .

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  6. I’m guessing that all of the people responding are over 30. Today you don’t have to be tethered to an office or your giant hard drives. I can store whatever information I want in the cloud. I can retrieve it via wifi or 3g from anywhere. When I first held an Ipad in my hand I knew my days of lugging my macbook pro were over. It’s just a continual evolution of how people use computers. Most people I know don’t and haven’t ever even used a desktop computer before. They’ve all grown up on laptops. So the transition from laptop to tablet is not nearly as great a shift. Of course there will always be some industries that will require a pc that need a ton of high end computational power, just as there are still mainframes. The masses though will flock to this new paradigm like a fish to water.

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  7. This will be great

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  8. Once you’re over thirty you’ll see that it’s pretty hard to monetize using a restricted capability device like a tablet with it’s limited input. Unless we are on the threshold of the ‘post-pay-my-bills-and-feed-my-family era’, more powerful tools will be needed by professionals. This is an entertainment device. Enjoy your movies now. When/if you get a real job, you’ll won’t have time.

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  9. I agree that we are moving in to a post-PC era, but the movement will be slow (by today’s standards), incremental, and may even prove bumpy. I touched upon how the Tablet ecosystem might manifest itself eventually in Quora (http://www.quora.com/Tablet-Devices/Will-tablets-replace-PCs/answer/Nicholas-de-Wolff), and I would only add that some of the above comments are quite right in suggesting that Tablets won’t completely replace the workstation experience, they will simply reformulate the hardware relationships, and thereby the HW/SW ecosystem that exists therein and thereon. This is why Apple’s announcement of “you owe us 30% of whatever you make” is scaring so many developers, publishers, and content creators. My hope is that once the “shiny toy” syndrome that always accompanies an Apple product release (and upgrade) wears off, and worthy competitors gain some market share (Xoom is imminently releasing a Wi-Fi only version, HP Touchpad is coming, Samsung is upgrading, etc), we’ll have enough options to validate the next phase of innovation, that will eventually manifest this “Post-PC” era. Won’t be tomorrow, though!

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  10. may be right, but history repeat itself, Apple will fall back to No: 2 or 3 position because Google’s Android based tablet will keep popping up follow by Microsoft Mobile OS. He should know better, every corporation, regardless how genius the current CEO is, will eventually taken over by seems to be the right staff to bring it down. Beside, many complicated and CPU hungry applications out there still beyond any current tablet PC CPU & hardware could handle. I think Job should rephrase: era of web surfing PC is over, or netbook era is over.

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