The PC is Over


Beepers, pocket organizers, PDAs, WebTVs, Email stations, handheld PCs…

I’ve seen a lot of these gadgets come and go. Mostly, they suffered from very limited utility, poor interfaces, and lousy proprietary software. And they were easily rendered irrelevant by cheaper, better PCs and the wide and growing pool of available software.

I find that my tablet falls into that category. It’s theoretically more powerful than the desktop that I used a few years ago, but in reality can’t do a fraction of what that desktop did. It’s crippled by an awful UI and a comically limited OS only capable of running little toy apps but not real software. Android’s more open than Apple, but it’s still more like a limited capability game console than a PC.

There are a few needs that a gadget like that could conceivably fill quite well, though, if they get the form factor and UI right. MP3 player replacement, Ebook reader, text messaging device, and phone. Unfortunately smartphones and tablets aren’t really that good at those things. A flat slab of plastic with some glass on it is nowhere near as easy to use as a phone-like phone. A glossy color screen is notably inferior to an e-ink reader for ebooks. I don’t really like text-messaging on my flip-phone, but it’s easier and more convenient than it is on a smartphone.

I expect sooner or later we’ll see a really good mobile device, probably within my lifetime. I envision a PC core box that you carry around in your pocket, which can be interfaced wirelessly through whatever peripherals happen to be around (speakers, phone, keyboard, mouse, hard drives, joysticks, monitors, TVs, or e-ink screens, etc.) But I’m not holding my breath. Or ditching my PC.

In the meantime, I expect that PC prices will continue to undercut the high-end tablets and smartphones, while PC software continues to improve but apps for the mobile devices stagnate at the limits of their utility and interface.


It’s true that for most people all their computing needs can be met by a phone or tablet but people are taking that assumption way too far. What about an accountant? Are they going to do spreadsheets on their tablet? Obviously not. If you had a monitor and keyboard at work and at home a tablet could maybe suffice for this type of demographic, but it’s still not practical. The main reason being that the applications are watered down because they’re designed with the 8.9 inch touch screen in mind.

Maybe if all the tablet productivity apps had a “docked” version that was fully featured. That would work for the business people but why would the tech industry bother to provide that them? We won’t do that for two reasons; we’d be losing a lot of the work put in on our existing products, and we’d be merging two markets when it would be more profitable to keep them separate.


The ‘human factor’ of one Jeff Atwood is strong in this case. Hotrodding has become less interesting to you - because of you, not because of something technological. That’s about growing up and stuff. :wink:

The rest of the article: sure, we’re beyond satisfying typical user needs. We have been for a much longer time, actually - we computer geeks are not typical users.


@Dleppik “CargoBot was written entirely with Codea, a Lua IDE for the iPad.”

What you failed to mention is the fact that you still need a desktop pc (or laptop) in order to compile the program and upload it to the app store.


Good luck programming, and running apps on your mac air, ipads etc. PC is never going to die for developers, programmers and people who use them at work. this is ridiculous. I sense an apple fanboy!!


I’m surprised to hear this from you because I’ve read your blog long enough to know you’re a productivity focused guy. My day job provides me a nice machine (3+ GHz quad-core hyperthreaded CPU, 8 GB of RAM, and a 1 TB hard drive), but I’m very frequently pushing its limits.

And it’s not that I’m playing Skyrim in the office. I’m often working on architectural diagrams and/or reverse engineering code in Enterprise Architect while I have two or three sessions of Visual Studio 2010 open, a couple of version control system apps (usually Perforce and Mercurial), always Microsoft OneNote, usually Microsoft Word, sometimes Excel/Access, and two or three virtual machines running various servers/clients for deploying/testing code and/or doing research into other things. And of course that says nothing about the memory/CPU hog that is Outlook 2010.

Sorry, but I max out my use of the system I have, and I’d love to have another 1 - 2 monitors and more RAM. I’d use that too. When I’m working at home I regularly have between three and five machines maxed out, depending upon what I’m doing.


Used to be, back in the day of 80 column monitors, that I’d print out sections of a program on green-bar paper, and crawl around on the floor with colored markers.

Sometimes, you simply need to see more of what is going on, at once, than you can squeeze through an 80x25 character display.

I’ve not done that in a couple of decades. Monitors are larger, resolution is higher, the ability of editors to display relevant sections from disparate large files have improved, and using multiple monitors is now a sine qua non.

But tablets? They’re a huge step backwards when it comes to working with large amounts of data.

But then, laptops aren’t all that much better. Laptops, at least, can work with docking stations that allow you to easily connect them multiple large monitors, quality keyboards, mice, pens, etc.

Tablets won’t replace PCs until they can do the same.


We’re a mobile development shop, so we’re armed to teeth with all kinds of tablets and smartphones. Most of your non-development staff is equipped with personal iPads. Yet, it’s mostly their MacBooks I see them lugging around.

Why? Because tablets, at least in their current form, are incredibly cumbersome and inadequate for any kind of even semi serious work. You don’t want to type your Emails on it. You certainly don’t want to develop or design on it. You can’t really use them to display your office docs or presentations on it, because it’s either just way to much work to get a hold of your files or get the programs to display them. Before they bother to put the stuff they made on their PCs on their tablets, they just bring their PCs. Tablets are essentially still a toy.

And until you can optionally plug in some proper input devices, like a keyboard and yes, a mouse and actually run some decent productivity apps on them, they will remain just that.

I guess Microsoft is currently in the best position to deliver just that. But they wouldn’t be Microsoft if they couldn’t manage to squander that opportunity somehow.


I’ve been rocking a tablet-pc since 2002. I currently have a hp tm2t. The only thing I want in this world is a proper pc that is just the screen, and have the keyboard detach. Microsoft surface w/ intel processor, (or, in my case the equivalent lenovo offerings) are going to meet this dream.

And all the bitching about accuracy on a tablet, they haven’t used a good digitizer pen-enabled computer.

As for gaming, the mobile graphics cards are improving at quite a hitch.


Tablets are just PCs in another form factor, most often running and OS other than Windows or Mac OS. Soon, they will be running the latest version of Windows.

It is best, to be a bit philosophically correct about this. PCs ARE personal computers, and that is what tablets are.

The greatest change in paradigm here is the move towards using these as terminals for centralized computing instead of local application processors. I.e. whether the move into cloud services will be total or the market and need for local processing remains. This has the potential to deeply change the way we use IT, since we are practically both handing over the responsibility but also the power and control of ones software to third parties; this goes for your data as well. The biggest issue is, how much we really want to integrate our personal lives with corporate interests and influence.

Besides that, its all down to peripherals.

Fantasy 1 (soon)

  • Small phone sized computing unit
  • Wireless charging - so many places, you never run dry
  • Wireless interfacing (data transfer - video, audio, data)
  • Hexacore 2GHz low voltage CPU
  • Very fast & secure wifi - 4-5G
  • All wireless connection to TV, Keyboard, Mouse, Touchpads
    Kinetic, 2D printers, 3D printers, 3D glasses, Hifi, Car,
    Google Glasses, Projectors - Everything IT now and then.

In this scenario. The PC is not dead, it just evolved. This I think, we will see soon.

And, not so soon…

Fantasy 2 (total sci fi stuff, you will see it, if your under 40)

  • Implanted or wearable computing (Whatever is easiest)
  • Mind Control & interfacing. (Already done, to some degree)
  • Direct neural interfacing. (Stuff projected direct into cortex)
  • Total augmented reality experience. Code becomes reality.
  • AI: Paradigm change, how much thinking and control do you want?

I think - thats where it is all going. The PC will never die, I think humanity will die before the PC. After which the P will be taken out of the equation and there simply is Computer. Thats when it dies - without the person the personal computer siezes to exist :slight_smile:


Know what a laptop can do that a tablet can’t? Multi-task


The one argument in favor of desktops that really struck a chord with me was the following (I’m paraphrasing, I don’t remember the exact sentence): “Everything that my tablet/smartphone can do, my desktop does it better. Except giving phone calls”.

Just an example that happened right away: I need to go somewhere I’ve never been to tonight. I always like to first take a look at where I shall be going using Google Maps / satellite view / street view to “get a feel” of what I’m up to. Did I use my iPhone to check Google Maps? My girlfriend’s iPad? No… I did launch on my 27" desktop and this gives me the best overview about the itinerary.

Then tonight I’ll be driving there and… I’ll have the help of my car’s integrated GPS to get there.

My iPhone? Useful? Sure, if I do get a phonecall today…


I do think most casual users will abandon desktops: and good riddance to them!

There is no conceivable way any smartphone or other ‘mobile computing device’ can replace the functionality of a keyboard, desk, mouse, and multiple monitors; that revolution will come with the advent of neural interfaces, or some other mechanism which allow the degree of flexibility and flat-out speed of a desktop interface while on the go.

Of course, if we think texting and driving is bad – what about coding & driving? Or watching porn in our retinal implants and driving? I guess it’s probably good that manual vehicular control will be an anachronism before much longer, provided civilisation doesn’t collapse first.

Anyway, the desktop is dead: long live the desktop!


Tablets and smartphones can already drive a decent screen (lots of them have HDMI out, iOS can use AirPlay), but it’s going to take some reengineering to be able to use the tablet as the input device and the big screen to see what you’re doing. You might decide that you don’t need a mouse any more - and you can use the tablet for some basic text entry, too. You could certainly do a powerpoint presentation with an iPad as your input and a decent monitor as output, for example, provided the software had a desktop mode as well as the tablet mode (I wonder if Windows 8 will move in that direction).

I can’t see anyone ever wanting to input large amounts of text without a keyboard with some travel on it, though. RSI is bad enough with an ergo keyboard on a proper desk. Even laptops make it worse, and what it’s like doing large amounts of data entry on an iPad doesn’t bear thinking about.

That means that any creative activity that requires large amounts of text also requires a real keyboard - which includes programming, of course. There are some other jobs that are text-heavy: lawyers, for example, but perhaps the best example of all are writers. If you read any blog by a novelist, you will endlessly read about them managing their RSI to get enough words into the computer.


The first time I used a minicomputer in the seventies, I wanted one but could not afford one. So when more affordable PCs became available, I bought one (1978: paid $4k for an Apple2 with 48k memory, 16k language card, 2 floppy drives; At this same time a new Chevrolet Camaro cost $8k). In 2012, people stood in line for 5 days to buy a scuffed iPhone5 for $699, $799, or $899. I find this odd since this is close to the price range of a decent PC based upon Intel’s Core-i7. To me, buying an iPhone at these prices is a dumb as paying $200 for a pair of sneakers with a red light in the heel.


Even if I didn’t code, I would never switch to tablets until they allowed me to do everything I can on a PC and just as efficiently. Writing with a virtual keyboard doesn’t compare with using a physical one. I like playing games of all kinds -not just casual ones- with a gamepad or a keyboard and a mouse. I can surf much faster using Firefox thanks to many of its time-saving extensions than I can with a tablet. I like multitasking, customization and freedom. Tablets might be alright for casual users who like simplicity, but they’re a joke for power users.

This whole “tablets are for consumers, PCs for creators” meme is ridiculous. Next they’ll be claiming you can’t create on paper because it doesn’t have a keyboard. Yes, they have constraints that PCs don’t have; but that doesn’t prevent creation, it just changes what you can create.

Not really. There’s nothing you create on a tablet that you can’t create faster and more efficiently on a PC. Prove me wrong.

Its amusing to witness the arrogance of many here.

It’s amusing to see your paranoia.

The simple fact is that the vast majority of people don’t code. They don’t do statistical analysis of big data. They don’t edit movies.

No, but plenty of non-programming people write long texts, multitask and game. Tablets are nowhere close to touching PCs in those areas.

For everyone else - a tablet and/or a smart phone will work just fine for their work and play.

Not if you need to do your work efficiently.


Interesting article. I find myself loosing interest in “the upgrade treadmill” as you describe here. In fact I do not have a working desktop computer, but use my laptop. I use it both at home and at work.

I use my iPhone a lot and has minimized the need to use a computer to do simple stuff, such as e-mail and being social on the Net. Of course the iPad is handy as well.


Its amusing to witness the arrogance of many here.

The simple fact is that the vast majority of people don’t code. They don’t do statistical analysis of big data. They don’t edit movies. For these tasks - use the appropriate tool to complete those tasks. Which is typically a desktop or high end laptop. For everyone else - a tablet and/or a smart phone will work just fine for their work and play.

I now return you back to your echo chamber and fake outrage.

What a load of bullshit. I don’t do any of those tasks and yet a tablet or a smartphone would NEVER satisfy my needs. I like being productive in my work -which means I must be able to use a keyboard-, I’m always downloading stuff off the web, and I would be bored senseless if all the games I played were casual touch-screen based iOS games.

You seem to be under the impression that no one who isn’t a data analyst, a programmer or someone who specializes in video editing cares about productivity or plays non-iOS games. Why? Because YOU don’t care about any of that stuff? Well, I must say that it’s amusing to witness your arrogance.

This whole “tablets are for consumers, PCs for creators” meme is ridiculous. Next they’ll be claiming you can’t create on paper because it doesn’t have a keyboard. Yes, they have constraints that PCs don’t have; but that doesn’t prevent creation, it just changes what you can create.

If by “it just changes what you can create” you mean “it limits both the quality and quantity of stuff that you can create”, then you’re right.

in that comic, the guy seems to have ended up in the same place. Except with his new setup, he can actually get up and take the screen with him as a tablet.

He would be able to get up and take his computer with him if he used a laptop, too. And not only that, but he also would have a far more productive tool and would be able to use a keyboard wherever he’s.

For people claiming that tablets are just too underpowered, that’s true for now, but I think that’s a shortsighted view. As the supply of fast, reliable mobile Internet increases to meet demand, the concept of “augmented capabilities” will become more and more common.

Tablets will ALWAYS be too underpowered. That’s the very point of tablets, that they’re less powerful than regular computers and thus are lighter and have better battery life than laptops.


When we claim that smartphones and tablets are made mostly for consumption, and that laptops and desktops are where most of the creation and editing takes place, we ignore the fact that a huge amount of photographs and digital video is created directly on phones and tablets and then uploaded to Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, or other clouds.

This should not be so casually overlooked in the battle to understand the balance between creation and consumption.


Well what about the ergonomic factor. Sitting there with a tablet or small device all day, how does one avoid getting all kinds of physical issues? You cannot work on these small devices all day without getting pains and aches. And working on them solely all the time? Ouch.