Apple’s post-PC world

Andy Ihnatko, Macworld
22 April, 2012
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Greetings, fellow charter members of The Post-PC Generation! God, can you even remember what it was like back in the pre-Post-PC days? I came across a photo of myself from olden times and I was sitting in front of something with a screen and a keyboard and a mouse. I was wearing these ridiculous bellbottom dungarees and a Swatch watch and crazy-stupid-big sideburns. I couldn’t even believe it was me!

Yeah, I’m still kind of struggling with this whole concept and Apple’s only made things worse in the two years since it introduced the iPad and gave us all a new buzzphrase. During the media event for the new iPad, Tim Cook referred to the iPhone and the iPod touch as “post-PC devices”.

I look at the iPhone to the right of my keyboard. I fail to recognise it as anything other than a phone. Didn’t phones predate computers by, like, a long stretch?

I remember seeing plenty of old movies in which Jimmy Stewart and William Powell are using telephones. I can’t remember a single one in which Myrna Loy or Fred Astaire try to Tweet anything.

Slow-roast revolution

Whatever we want to call it we’re definitely in some sort of slow-roast revolution. I can tell because over the past six months, I’ve let go of my last shreds of desire for an 11in MacBook Air.

You may recall the little passion play I went through last year. I had a review unit for a month or two and the first time I travelled with a full-featured MacBook in the magazine pocket of my smallest satchel instead of in a special bag filled with accessories, I fell deeply in lust. I might have pulled the trigger and bought one, if not for the fact that I’d upgraded my MacBook Pro just a few months earlier.

Two things have happened since then. First, iOS app developers have become much bolder. On Day One, they were writing apps that treated the iPad as a content consumption device. By the time the iPad 2 was released, they thought of it as a machine that could handle many functions of a ‘real’ computer, during those specific instances when it’s just not worth hauling around a full-sized notebook.

Today, more and more developers are confident that the iPad is indeed a real computer and are expressing that confidence by making desktop-class iOS apps – with Apple leading the way, of course. The new iPad edition of iPhoto isn’t just competitive with the desktop version, the tactile nature of the iPad makes it superior to most of the available consumer-grade image editors for Mac OS and Windows.

The second thing was the arrival of the third-gen iPad. Dammit, this is a sweet display. I expected that the Big Win of the Retina display would be crisper text and sharper graphics. Naw. It turns out that the 2,048 x 1,536 screen opens up the iPad to new functions that it couldn’t really handle very well. VNC sits at the top of that list. VNC was a bit clumsy on the iPad 1 and 2. On the new iPad, it’s damned-near perfect. The iPad’s display exceeds the resolution of your MacBook back home and the LTE mobile broadband dramatically reduces the range of situations under which you won’t have a decent internet connection.

No, I no longer wish I had an 11in Air. What I have here – a third-generation iPad and an Apple Wireless Keyboard – is better. I have better-than-good native iOS apps to handle almost all of my mobile needs. When only a desktop app will do, I have VNC and/or the wonderful OnLive Desktop service that allows me to run Microsoft Office on a virtualised Windows 7 server.

My MacBook is still the go-to machine when speed and convenience are required. At 10 megabits per second or faster, VNC works well enough for live typing and editing, but, yeah, it’s not As Good As Being There. And in most hotels, you’re lucky if the in-room internet doesn’t require you to drop a phone handset into an acoustic coupler and then insert some coins.

(Side-notes to Apple: if you were serious when you said that the iPad is a serious computer, you need to beef up the iPad’s keyboard support. The arrow keys should map to screen up/screen down in every scrolling text; I should be able to rotate between running apps by hitting Cmd-Tab, as I can in Mac OS; Pages should let me apply boldface and italics via keyboard shortcuts and it shouldn’t ‘help’ me extend selected text the way it does when I’m selecting via touch. Email me and we’ll discuss.)

All of this has got me wondering about the fate of ultrabook-class computers. The 11in Air offers a sub-optimal Mac OS experience. As much as I liked it, I always wished for a larger, more readable screen. In some circumstances, the presence of full-screen app modes in Lion were the machine’s saving grace. If I’ve noticed this shortcoming, you can bet Apple has, too. I bet that the 11in Air will be the first MacBook to get a Retina upgrade.

Still, it feels like we’re seeing something we almost never see: confusion in the Apple message. With iLife, iWork and hundreds of other desktop-grade apps available for the iPad, Apple is clearly saying that the iPad is a great choice for ultra-mobile computing.

One table away, however, it also has an ultra-mobile Mac that looks a lot like the iPad and isn’t all that much heavier. But it costs twice the price, it runs for three-quarters to half as long on battery, the screen is harder to read and it only runs one class of apps.

I don’t see doom for the 11in MacBook. But I do think whatever Apple does to this Mac will tell us a lot about how the company wishes to define computing in general and Mac OS specifically, for the next five years.



3 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Paulie says:

    “Side-notes to Apple: if you were serious when you said that the iPad is a serious computer, you need to beef up the iPad’s keyboard support. The arrow keys should map to screen up/screen down in every scrolling text; I should be able to rotate between running apps by hitting Cmd-Tab, as I can in Mac OS; Pages should let me apply boldface and italics via keyboard shortcuts and it shouldn’t ‘help’ me extend selected text the way it does when I’m selecting via touch. Email me and we’ll discuss.”

    YES!! OMG! I bought an iPad with keyboard the other day and I have been using over the last couple of days and I instinctively go to use keyboard shortcuts like Cmd-Tab/Q/B/I/U, etc. I should be able to quit an app with Cmd-Q or hide it Cmd-H, or close a document in Pages or other apps with Cmd-W. And, yes, I try an scroll up/down/left/right with the arrows. Also, when an alert comes up I instinctively go to tap Enter/Return.

    Apple needs to build an SDK or something or build it into the next iOS because having to stop typing to tap the screen for something I can use a keyboard shortcut for on my Mac interrupts my flow. So inconvenient!!

    The only other thing I take issue with is I don’t think Apple’s iApps are quite desktop class (yet), eg, I cannot insert footnote references into Pages documents, nor can I do page breaks, section breaks, etc. Manipulating headers and footers is another biggie!

  2. Pedro says:

    If Apple drops out of desktop computing and the absence of a Mac Pro update seems to confirm this trend, with rumours also that there’ll be no more 17″ MBPs, I’ll be pushed right back to Windows full time.

    A large screen, full keyboard and mouse are my idea of a perfect gaming platform. I am a septuagenarian but still seek computer entertainment in the form of action games. I suspect computer games keep dementia at bay and oldies can and are benefiting. Andy, you failed to write a single sentence about home use and entertainment.

    The iPad fails miserably to be a fast response large screen gaming platform. And there are no games of the type I play available for iPad anyway. Gaming touch control on the iPad is limited, slow and imprecise. Count me right out of tablet gaming.

    Additionally, like many seniors, I lack the dexterity to cope with XBox and PS3 game pads. It has to be the keyboard and mouse for me. There’s nothing better. Large screens will always serve the sight impaired far better than those on miniscule iPads and iPhones.

    Andy, there is more to computing than business apps. Your article was hugely self-centred.

  3. Garry says:

    I thought long and hard regarding the iPad 2, 11″ MBA and 13″ MBA. My aim firstly to have portability, then I examined the whole way I use computing. It was a revolution to me not an evolution. These devices made me look into the basic way I use computing and what I really needed.

    The iPad 2, was the winner for quick entry and looking up information, but for creating beyond the quick entry I found the keyboard was essential. Carrying an iPad and keyboard is not that much better than carrying a MBA. The iPad 2 was frustrating when I needed a more powerful computer but for 80% of cases it was sufficient. But that does not mean it was the best for the job, it could just do 80% of my needs. Sometimes faster and sometimes slower than a full OS device.

    That brings me to the MBA. I struggled whether I need a MBA, for over 12 months. The delay in the decision meant that a new model come out with increased speed. I decided to get one and struggled over the 11″ or 13″, and eventually I decided the 13″ as during this period a revolution took place. Why do I need my desktop ? I decided to go with the 13″ MBA and iPad as my only computers. The 13″ MBA would replace my almost antique 13″ Macbook Pro and my old iMac. I didn’t sell my Macbook Pro until 3 months later (to be sure) and my old iMac still sits on the desk (don’t know why – perhaps nostalgia).

    I find the 13″ MBA is the perfect fit for me (over 50 guy) between portable computing and doing real work. It is the fastest computer that I have owned (due to SSD) and is so thin and light that I pack this before packing the iPad. I have even considered why I need an iPad. Since I have bought the MBA I find myself hardly ever using the iMac or iPad. I just instinctively reach for the MBA. If I had a 11″ MBA I don’t think that this would happen as I find the screen too small, but I hardly ever need a larger screen than the 13″. Okay I have a 22″ screen as well that I can plug this MBA into but I find that I rarely do so unless doing a photo creating session. I am now photo editing on the MBA as well with no screen attached.

    Indeed the 13″ MBA has created a revolution to the way I use computers. Hard disk storage is accessed through an external solution connected to my Airport Extreme. My printer is connected through my Airport Express. My Apple TV 2 is connected to my stereo and tv and gives me music and entertainment. The hub of it all is my MBA. All other computers seem obsolete compared to the MBA. But I really can’t give up on my iPad even though I do not use it that much, but when I do it is just for reading, internet and for brainstorming.

    If I was given the choice of one computer it would be the 13″ MBA.

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