We expect that a lot of people don’t know what “PC” stands for, or at least give it any real thought. The idea of a “personal computer” came about at a time when computers were huge, expensive, and used by several people in research facilities and universities. At the time, what made a computer “personal” was that it was owned by a person instead of a company or organization. As more and more people relied on desktop computers at home, the “personal” half of the term had less and less meaning; in homes where several family members used a computer, the desktop and file structure became a mish-mash of the user’s personalities. Things changed a bit when home operation systems began to use local accounts, one for each user. But even then, the form factor of a typical computer simply doesn’t lend itself to the level of connectivity that something “personal” ought to.
Compare this to an iPod, for example. An iPod is cheap enough for most everyone to own, and its contents are a reflection of the owner, containing her tastes, styles, and interests. Even the exterior of the device can be customized by the owner, either by choosing a specific exterior color at purchase, else using cases and decals. Furthermore, the form factor of an iPod is perfect; most people can use their iPod at home, on their commute, at work, and in the gym.
While computers have become smaller, and notebooks more common, they still don’t reach the level of closeness that people have with their iPods, because they’re still very task-specific tools.1 This is where mobile devices have stepped in to become the everywhere tool in a person’s life. While smartphones have been reasonably successful, their size makes certain tasks limited, or cumbersome. To great success, the iPad has found the middle road between what’s small enough to go most everywhere and what’s large enough to still be useful for most tasks. And the iPad form factor, a tablet, makes it ideal for tasks that most people would never have considered doing on a computer, or on a mobile device.
Stephen Hackett comments on several tasks he uses his iPad for:
I can do all of these things on my MacBook Pro, or even my Mac mini at home. The iPad, however, makes these tasks not only easier, but more enjoyable … especially on the couch, with a beer.
The success of the iPad isn’t in just in what all it can do, because contrary to what some may claim, the iPad is not “just another tool”. Rather, the iPad is successful because not only does it do a lot, but it lets you integrate the iPad into all your daily tasks, be it in the kitchen, at the office, on the couch, or even in the bathroom. The iPad is a more natural fit for how we live our lives, instead of constraining our tasks to a necessary time and place that most traditional computers require.
If anything, the iPad is a more personal computer than a PC, which is really what this “post-PC” hub-bub in the press is all about. “PC” has become a misnomer, because compared to the iPad and its emulators, PCs are not personal, they’re impersonal.2 Inasmuch as what the iPad can do, it may differ little from a conventional PC, but the idea Apple is pushing with their post-PC nomenclature is that tablets are opening new doors for how computers can be used, and it’s about as drastic as the difference was between PCs and what came before.