Thursday, 20 October 2011

why the desktop PC is dead

I have seen a number of arguments on the Internet about whether the much-ballyhooed proclamation of the death of the PC has any merit. I believe it does. Although industry pundits have been proclaiming its death for ten years, things are really starting to look that way, now. Of course, the situation is still very much like Mark Twain's ["The report of my death was an exaggeration".](http://www.twainquotes.com/Death.html). But I believe that with the [iPad](http://www.apple.com/ipad/), the PC's death is not far off.

Many of the arguments against this prediction focus on the minimalist feature-set of tablets. "There are no or insufficient USB ports", they may argue, or "there's no video or audio input jack", or my personal favourite: "I want to be able to install a custom graphics card". Or these detractors may focus on the software: "I rely on Microsoft Access" or "I want to render 3D animation", or - my complaint - "I need a UNIX shell". But these complaints are not the complaints of Joe Average, who just wants to check his email, type a simple letter, read a book, and browse the web. These are the complaints of computer nerds. They're in the minority.

Average Joes will be buying tablets and ditching their PCs - and they're the majority. The only reason the "PC is dying" prediction hasn't come true yet, is that the iPad is still relatively new and relatively expensive. Up until now, tablet PCs have been as complex as regular desktop PCs - without any benefits apart from portability. But portability is just one of the reasons tablets are worth considering. The most important point of the iPad, and why it has succeeded where previous tablets have failed, is its simplicity — which it owes to iOS, the stripped-down Mac OS X that powers the device.

PCs are not quite dead, but they soon will be. As soon as people notice that you can do spreadsheets on iOS using, say, [Apple's iWork suite](http://www.apple.com/iwork/), then there will be no major reason to use a PC. A MacBook Air, for example, is just a tablet with a keyboard; it has no optical drive, and its hard drive is a solid-state flash RAM drive. It contains no moving parts, just like the iPad. How is an iMac - the all-in-one screen device - not a tablet with a keyboard? Remove its optical drive and keyboard, and add a touch screen, and voila - the iMac is a tablet. As soon as Apple move the keyboard onto the Mac's screen, the Mac will no longer exist, and Apple will only be making tablets. The question will just be which model of tablet you want.

As for Windows-based PCs - in ten years they'll start copying apple - as usual. And then PCs will disappear. Where is my evidence that this will happen? Well, Apple removed the floppy drive in 1997/1998. PC manufacturers have since stopped shipping floppy drives. Now watch: once Microsoft have an app store and online downloads of their software, the optical drive will disappear from generic PCs, too, just as it is disappearing on Apple's machines. The ultimate optical drive killer is online streaming video, or Apple's iTunes store, where you can buy movies and download them legally. Once you can do that, you really do not need an optical drive. So after the optical drive is gone, the only thing stopping a PC from being a tablet is whether it has a physical keyboard or a touchscreen keyboard.

As for hardware port limitations, the new iPads have video output - it's just a question of video input for camcorders. But even then, if Apple improves their built-in video cameras, there will be no need for that. Likewise, once Apple and Microsoft are shipping major games on their app stores, there will also be a need for them to ship high-end graphics cards in their tablets. That will end the argument that tablets lack 'serious' gaming capacity.

I predict that within ten years, the only PCs left will be server boxes in corporate headquarters, research entities, and so on, and desktop machines in movie manufacturers' render farms. Apart from entities or people who need massive processing power, the future of the desktop PC is extinction.

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