The false post-PC choice

Lex Friedman
10 August, 2012
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Like his predecessor, Apple CEO Tim Cook occasionally invokes the idea that we’re living in a post-PC world: one in which, for many people, the iPad is enough of a computer that they don’t need an actual PC. In the same vein, friends and family often ask me whether they could get by with “just an iPad” instead of buying a new laptop.

You’re likely to have your own take on this question. But to me, what makes the iPad vs PC question really interesting is the fact that people ask it in the first place.

Oven vs toaster

We don’t compare fridges with freezers, or ovens with toasters. Each has something in common with the other, but each also has its own specific purpose. The advent of the freezer didn’t hurl us into a post-fridge world.

We readily compare the iPad with the PC in part because the tablet’s larger screen makes it seem more computerlike, but I think there’s something more. We make these comparisons because we’re still trying to figure out the iPad’s unique role in our lives.

The fact is that while laptops and iPads can handle the same tasks, they do so in different ways; and the experience of using them for those tasks is different, too.

To return to kitchen-based analogies: in my family, we make grilled-cheese sandwiches two ways. Sometimes we just melt cheese on bread in the toaster oven; other times we break out the frying pan and the butter. The first approach is quicker and healthier; the second approach yields a tastier sandwich.

In the Mood

I can usually get more done on my Mac in a given amount of time than I can on my iPad, but I enjoy many of those tasks more when I use the iPad. For example, it might be faster – even easier – to undertake web research on a desktop computer, but it’s often more fun and satisfying to do it using Multi-Touch gestures.

Sometimes the apps themselves make the iPad more viscerally satisfying to use. I would rather catch up on Twitter using Tweetbot on the iPad than any other way. Other times, the iPad app for a given task isn’t objectively better, yet I still prefer to use it. Kindle for the Mac and for the iPad are equally fine, but on the iPad, the reading experience feels palpably more personal; there’s an intimate connection with a device that you cradle in your hands.

A laptop is still better suited to plenty of other tasks. I’d rather write a novel, edit audio or code a website on my Mac, even though I like the iOS apps that can accomplish the same tasks. And to me, that’s just fine. We can compare the iPad to the PC all we want, but there’s clearly room for both devices.

From ‘Or’ to ‘And’

I remember when my first iPad arrived, back in April 2010. After it had synced with iTunes and was ready to go, my first thought was: what now? I had an iPhone and a Mac – what was I going to use this for? Plenty, as it turned out. Almost anything I could do with my Mac, I could also do with my iPad. The thing is, I’m not always in the mood for healthy grilled cheese.

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