This week's super-duper Consumer Electronics Show (CES) announcements that companies like Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and others are rolling out a bunch of new laptops, desktops and monitors seems to have caused some surprise in the technology world. After all, the world is all about tablets now, so why would any company devote precious resources to developing such archaic technology?
Well, what the heck else were they going going to do? Billions of dollars of infrastructure is invested in manufacturing PCs, so it's not like the company was going to turn around overnight and say "Oh, well, that was a mistake, let's make tablets and nothing but tablets from now on."
And it's not like Lenovo is ignoring the whole concept of alternative computing platforms. The China-based hardware maker also pushed out a line of Android phones and a big-ass "Table PCs" that just barely avoids the raging failure of the original Microsoft Surface by (a) not costing a gazillion dollars and (b) not requiring the help of a furniture mover to be repositioned. HP is busy with its convertible tablets. And that's the story with pretty much ever hardware vendor you can name.
Still, it may seem weird that hardware vendors are putting in a lot of marketing and sales into "traditional" PC form factors when all the hype is about mobile and tablets.
Workers & Creators Unite!
But it's not so weird when you take two very important facts into consideration:
- People still need to get work done
- Right now the best software for productivity is geared towards the PC form factor. And that's true even of Web-based applications.
It's not that you can't get work done on a tablet. I write on my iPad all of the time and I've gotten to the point that I will haul it around instead of a full laptop when attending various events. But I always use a TouchFire keyboard overlay or an external Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad - anything to avoid typing directly on a glass screen.
And I always still bring my laptop along when I travel. Because even though I can (and will) write a complete article on the tablet, using most Web-based content management tools requires a keyboard and mouse/touchpad interface.
PCs Still Rule For Productivity
More generally, that's still the preferred interface for most business applications, not just website back ends. Using Google Docs (especially the spreadsheet) is painful on a tablet's browser, and unless it were heavily modified, I could not imagine using an application like GIMP long-term on a tablet (although I have done it done so in a pinch using remote desktop software).
Sure, there are tablet-specific alternatives for increasing numbers of common business applications, and many custom business apps are now going mobile as well. But many other apps still don't have mobile equivalents, and even when mobile versions do exist, they're not always as full-featured and easy to use as the original PC versions.
All the hardware vendors are well-aware that there are two kinds of computer users out there: those who consume and those who produce. Most "consuming" users can get by with tablets, smartphones and touchscreens. Many producers, on the other hand, still find such form factors limiting at best.
They may not be the meat of the computing market going forward, but they're never going away completely. Heck, someone has to get some work done, right? Hence, the continued investment in PC devices.
For my part, I hope new and better PCs keep on coming. if Lenovo and HP and everyone else (including Apple) ever abandon those who create in favor of those who consume, productivity would decline and make us all poorer.
As a teacher, I worry that my students are increasingly ill-prepared for business computing work because their parents are buying them the latest tablet or smartphone instead of something they can actually work on. As a father, I may lend my kids a tablet for fast research or messaging, but to write reports or build presentations, the PC is still the best way to go.
Image courtesy of Lenovo.