Has the PC Worm Now Turned

Mike Halsey MVP
Mar 24, 2011
Updated • Dec 2, 2012
Mobile Computing

For the last year we've all been talking about tablets.  They've been the technology of the moment for some considerable time now and their appeal doesn't seem to  be diminishing.  It's still been the case though that we're just not seeing tablets being used out and about in cafes and on trains in the way people use laptops or netbooks.  In the last couple of weeks though I've seen two iPads being used while out on my travels, the most recent being the most interesting.

First I'd like to tell you of my own opinions of using a tablet computer when out and about.  While a tablet might not be the ideal form factor for the way we've all become accustomed to working in the last few years, nay decades, all I can now see are people carrying unnecessarily large and heavy computer equipment when all they want to do with it are a few basic and simple tasks.

Only yesterday I took several train journeys to travel to the medieval city of York to give a talk on Windows 7 and I saw people crammed into airline seats on the train with a laptop, protruding at an odd angle, propped up slightly on one knee as the person using it sat awkwardly slightly to one side as the seat didn't offer the space to sit the machine in front of you that would have been better.

Even those people sat at tables on the train had hulking great devices that took up all the table space that they really wanted to be using for their coffee, sandwich and the evening paper.

Then however I spotted something different.  This was a man sat using an iPad, nothing unusual in that you might think.  This tablet was supported vertically in a dock however with a bluetooth Apple keyboard sat stylishly in front of it.  Your attention was drawn to this partly because of the beauty and elegance of such a setup, but also because it was so unusual.

I, being a tech author and a Windows 7 tablet user, sat across from the man with my ExoPC and he sat working on whatever he was doing, merrily typing away while I struggled to get my 3G connection to work reliably at high speeds.

Eventually we got chatting about tablets and technology.  He wasn't a technologically in-the-know person but was happy that the iPad made things simple for him to use.  He spent a lot of time travelling on trains every week he told me, and for this the tablet was ideal being (even with the dock and extra keyboard) less than half the size of an equivalent laptop and about a quarter of the weight.

He could use a decent-sized screen and a full-size keyboard and just stick them away in a bag as he approached his destination, instant on and instant off.

Then came the all important question, I stumbled over this slightly trying not to appear impertinent.  "If you don't mind me asking, you've got that all set up and are using it in a way that implies it's your only computer."

The answer was clear, swift and decisive.  It was!  He almost seemed to take pride in telling me that his desktop PC at home hadn't been switched on in almost six months.  Why would he need to, he could do everything he wanted on this tablet device and it worked far more effectively than his PC ever could.

This is a man who had clearly seen the advantages of the tablet, and seen them all.  More importantly he'd admitted to not knowing the first thing about technology except how to recognise a good thing when it came along.  He was absolutely delighted with his iPad and there was, frankly, no going back to the old way of doing things now.

This isn't an argument of the benefits of the iPad as a device over a laptop or a desktop PC, no.  It's also not an argument of the benefits of an iPad over my ExoPC Slate.  This is an argument of the tablet form factor and the benefits of the, all too long overdue, system on a chip computers that we are lucky to have today.

On this train was the first non-technical person I had met who had embraced the tablet fully and who, more importantly, was using it to its full potential.

You might wonder why I found this so surprising.  Well, when you think about it the tablets that we have today have only been with us for a single year and I had fully expected that it would take much longer, three to four years in fact, before we got to this stage and people began swapping their desktop computing life for one that was embedded and sometimes even pocketable.

The fact that I'm already meeting people who are switching their lives came as something of a surprise, especially given that it's still uncommon to see somebody using a tablet out and about.

This is nothing more than vindication of the worthiness of the current tablet market and absolute proof that it's here to stay and will ultimately cause the death of the home computing market almost completely.  Within a couple of years the sales of desktop PCs outside of business will have slumped significantly with hard-core gamers making up more than half of all home PC sales.

Sales of laptops and netbooks will also slump so its no surprise that every major computer manufacturer is jumping on the tablet bandwagon.  They can see which way the wind is blowing and if they're going to keep trading when the world is changing so quickly and so dramatically around them, they have to.


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  1. Ron Steed said on March 25, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    If the individual you spoke of really has not connected the iPad to a PC for over 6 month then he is running very old software on his iPad. Currently AFAIK, the only way to update the OS and truly back up the important things on an IOS device is to sync with iTunes on a laptop or desktop.

    I would get more behind the iPad if they get around this. Apple is almost enforcing the idea that we all need 3 machines … a laptop or desktop, a smartphone, and a tablet.

    Apple is a hardware company and I am OK with the goal of selling more machines but I think they would get even more uptake on the iPad (I know it’s huge already) if you could self-update and backup to either plug-in storage or a cloud provider like Dropbox.

    I am drawn to the experience and feel of the iPad as well but I just want a few user experience things sorted before I make the jump … Thanks!

  2. kalmly said on March 25, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I understand the convenience of using a tablet or other little device for people who need something (very) small to carry around with them. However, my desktop is irreplaceable. It is where I work. I can’t imagine writing or spread sheeting or databasing on with some tiny little screen, not to mention the lack of a keyboard. I need to see what I’m doing. Also, I need USB ports, printers, scanners, etc. Maybe I’m just past the age where “trendy” matters. What matters to me is usefulness.

    Consider that my desktop was purchased back in 2004. It’s fast, sweet, and set up just the way I want it. There is no reason in the world, right now, to replace it. Desktops last longer than other computing devices. When I purchase the next one, I expect it to live as long as this one has. Now, doesn’t that have something to do with the sales statistics? My laptop, quite new, is as far toward small as I ever want to go and I only use it when I’m traveling.

  3. OblongCircles said on March 25, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Wow, Mike really reached on a few statements and predictions here. It sounds like he just wants to justify “upgrading” his ExoPC to a trendy iPad.

    For me, a desktop will continue to hog real estate on my desk. I have a laptop for travel. Although I see the convenience of having a tablet, I won’t be venturing into that consumer hype frenzy until they have USB ports (what’s with all of the proprietary ports anyway?!?). Maybe I’m just anti-trendy.

    I guess in closing, like elbow and knees, just about everyone has an opinion they don’t mind sharing so to each his own, just don’t start putting tombstones on my devices yet.

  4. psikeyhackr said on March 25, 2011 at 1:05 am

    It sounds like propaganda about the BEAUTY and ELEGANCE of the iPad to me.

    Tablets and netbooks are both von Neumann machines. If a tablet does not have a USB port so I can just plug in any old USB keyboard then I’ll use it for a frisbee.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on March 25, 2011 at 10:52 am

      I suppose it depends largely on what you would need it for. I for one need a QWERTZ keyboard on all my devices because I write a lot and want to write fast. I’m not actually sure what I would need a tablet for, to be honest.

  5. Joust said on March 25, 2011 at 12:23 am

    Tablets/Phones may be fine for those that like doing, watching things on tiny screens, and listening to music through tinny speakers, but i for one will never trade in my desktop. Honestly, you can do so many more things on a desktop because of their power that you can’t do on these portable devices that it’s just not funny.

  6. SubgeniusD said on March 25, 2011 at 12:02 am

    I agree with Mike as far as the future expansion of tablets (and smart phones) replacing notebooks/netbooks for mobile usage. But the imminent death of the home desktop/notebook computer market is a strange conclusion to jump to.

    Personally I’ve moved from desktops to high end “desktop replacement” notebooks which I’m quite happy with. The notion of any kind of tablet supplying the range of function provided by a nice wide-screen notebook for home office/entertainment usage is preposterous.

  7. Nebulus said on March 24, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    It’s sad to see so many people falling into the trap regarding “death” of desktop computers… I am well aware that nothing on this world is eternal, but I also believe that the desktop computer will become extinct only when there will be something that will be able to replace it completely (or even offer more functionality). Until now nothing like this happened (you said it yourself that tablet is a great help to people who don’t want to complicate their technical lives, and not to gamers, for instance), and I don’t think this will happen somewhere in the near future…

  8. jasray said on March 24, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    A prediction based on the experience of one happy tablet user utterly fails in making a statistically sound prediction that laptops and desktops will soon be nearly obsolete.

    It would be quite easy for me to find one, two, three and many more tablet users who honestly find tablets useless, worthless rubbish which are only new fads in the market and will soon be trashed after the manufacturers rake in billions in profits.

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