Ever since the debut of the iPad nearly five years ago, pundits have been talking about the possibility of a post-PC professional existence. But I’m actually living it; I haven’t touched a personal computer in six months and I’m more productive than ever.
If you could peek over my shoulder at the device I’m writing this column on, you might call me a liar. By all appearances, my notebook computer, with its 13-inch screen, trackpad and keyboard, is a PC.
And yet Gartner, the most influential company charged with determining what is and is not a personal computer, has declared that my Samsung ElectronicsChromebook 2 isn’t a PC. Gartner doesn’t include sales of Chromebooks in its quarterly tally of how many PCs are sold.
“We define a PC as a device which is capable for both content consumption and creation, regardless of form factor,” says Mikako Kitagawa, Gartner’s lead PC analyst.
I guess I’m not a content creator.
Chromebooks, in case you haven’t touched one—and market research indicates that you haven’t—are Google ’s answer to Windows and Mac computers. Gadget reviewers who use Chromebooks only when they are paid to often describe them as more limited than a typical PC. But people who use Chromebooks regularly are more likely to observe that they can do pretty much everything that the average PC user needs.
To be fair to Gartner, many Chromebooks, including my own, have the same innards as smartphones so, at least on paper, they seem underpowered. Samsung’s Chromebook 2 has the same processor, amount of memory and even number of screen pixels as Samsung’s flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S5. The only reason the Chromebook 2 works as a PC is that Google’s Chrome operating system is incredibly lightweight—smaller and less taxing on hardware.
I don’t mean to shill for Chromebooks. It’s just that Google is in the vanguard of creating PCs that function like smartphones: light, portable, always on, always connected and relying on the cloud to do their heavy lifting. It’s pretty obvious that in the not too distant future, Apple and Microsoft are going to free their fans from the PC in the same way.
Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has said that he does 80% of his work on an iPad. I bet it would be 100% if the iPad possessed the characteristics that allow you to create content rather than just consume it: true multitasking and fast switching between applications, plus a bigger screen. But there’s evidence that a larger, so-called iPad Pro is coming. And I bet that Apple eventually will give us a version of its mobile operating system that makes iPads true replacements for notebooks, even those made by Apple.
Then there’s Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, which is a full PC in tablet form, one of the many two-in-one notebooks that PC makers have been rolling out lately. From the processing power these hybrid devices pack to their snap-on keyboards, they are clearly designed to get real work done.
Yet were I a Surface Pro user, I still wouldn’t be using a PC, according to IDC, Gartner’s leading competitor for tallying how many PCs are sold each year. But Gartner does consider the Surface Pro a PC. According to Jay Chou, IDC’s senior analyst in charge of tracking PCs, the firm doesn’t consider anything with a detachable keyboard a PC. His firm does consider Chromebooks to be PCs, even though the Surface Pro 3 is far more powerful than most Chromebooks.
That Gartner and IDC can’t even agree on the definition of a PC speaks volumes about the strange times in which we live. Is a smartphone stretched into the shape of a laptop a PC? No, says Gartner. What about a PC crammed into the shape of a tablet? Nope, counters IDC.
These delineations are ridiculous from the perspective of the end user. That’s because most of us are entertaining ourselves and getting work done in the one place absolutely all of these devices can access—the cloud.
I store and edit all my photos in the cloud, which also is where all my media are streamed from. Unless you’re editing video, building 3-D models, playing elaborate games or dependent on legacy Windows applications that your company hasn’t moved to the cloud, you don’t strictly need a PC anymore.
At this point in history, booting up a full-fledged PC operating system to write an email is like using a nuclear sub to go on a weekend fishing trip. And a good Chromebook can be had for $300. Personally, I’d rather spend my technology budget on the one thing I truly can’t do without—my smartphone. Surveys indicate that in this respect, I’m typical of every generation to follow the baby boomers.
In short, I’m done with PCs—at least as they are conventionally defined. And I think the majority of long-suffering PC users would be too if they weren’t so accustomed to thinking of computers in the same way they have for decades. Building new technology is easy compared with changing the habits of those who use it.
—Follow Christopher Mims on Twitter @Mims and write to him at email@example.com.