Back To The Past With Oculus Rift

The pundits tell us Facebook’s purchase of Oculus VR is proof virtual reality has arrived, at long last. The future is now.

Except all I can think about is the past.

That’s what I mostly want from Oculus, or from Sony’s Morpheus or any similar device: the past. Not virtual reality or virtual presence, but a virtual time portal, a way to explore — to feel fully a part of — the events that shaped this world, this country, my life.

I was there with Jobs and Woz when they first started Apple!

Full disclosure: I was not there with Jobs and Woz when they first started Apple.  

Imagine putting on your Oculus headset and instead of playing the most amazing, immersive game of Halo, you are tasked with parachuting onto a Normandy beach. It’s D-Day. You are there as it happens. Understand, this is not at all to diminish anyone’s effort or sacrifice, or confuse reality with imagination, but to enable each of us to viscerally, visually behold great moments in history in all their nasty, sweaty, dull, grinding, vicious glory.

Let’s explore not just the building of the Great Pyramid but the discussions on its construction. Watch the burning(s) of the library of Alexandria. Witness our own birth.

With the amount of documentary video evidence now at our disposal, and all our computing power, social media data, location-based tweets, check-ins and other information, soon we will be able to reconstruct the momentous events of our present in such a way our children really can use VR to transport themselves back to today’s equivalent of the founding of Apple, or, yes, go inside the deadly flights of 9/11.

Imagine how much better we might understand people and cultures, events, greatness, failure and chance if we focused the development of Oculus not on virtual realities but on very human ones.

Oculus Rift

We have arrived at a point that is, for real this time, only a short distance from making virtual reality a reality. Let’s not blow this chance.

I’m not that old. Despite what my son thinks, I’m not. My parents are still alive. My grandmother died a few years ago — after being struck by a car. I can remember what it was like pre-iPhone; hell, before everyone had a PC in their home. It’s taken a long time to get here, to a future we expected would happen by the 1990s, which makes me uneasy that nearly all the focus and all the cash behind VR is centered on gaming.

This is exactly what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stated when he bought Oculus:

When you put (Oculus) on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment, like a game or a movie scene or a place far away. 


The (Oculus) Rift is highly anticipated by the gaming community, and there’s a lot of interest from developers in building for this platform.

Ugh, gaming.

It’s not just Zuckerberg, of course. The computer industry seems intent on constructing virtual reality mostly for gaming. So much, in fact, the tech press accepts this vision without comment. The Verge:

Nothing delivers a feeling of immersion better than VR. VR has been a dream of many gamers since the computer was invented. 

In discussing their VR headset, Sony Studios president Shuhei Yoshida noted it was the “culmination of our work over the last three years to realize our vision of VR for games, and to push the boundaries of play.”

Explaining the amazing potential of virtual reality, Wired similarly focused almost exclusively on gaming.

In a traditional videogame, too much latency is annoying—you push a button and by the time your action registers onscreen you’re already dead. But with virtual reality, it’s nauseating. If you turn your head and the image on the screen that’s inches from your eyes doesn’t adjust instantaneously, your visual system conflicts with your vestibular system, and you get sick.

Videogame pioneer John Carmack is CTO of Oculus.

Oculus received major venture backing from Andreessen Horowitz, after the product was demoed at a gaming conference.

Really, I could not care less about games or gaming.

Imagine, instead, being ‘there’ the very first time the Beatles performed at the Cavern Club. Or witness a father watch the last of his six children die as the plague sweeps across western Europe.

Is it wrong to embrace the future yet be so utterly fascinated by the past?

How can any game compete with actual human history?

The pace of VR technology is accelerating. Delivering sight, sound, motion have nearly all been solved. But let’s not have the potential of this technology become so limited.

I have hope. Many developers are working on building immersive non-gaming experiences for Oculus and similar devices. Though not currently practical, this large-scale D-Day simulation points, ironically, to a rather stunning future.


Can such efforts succeed? That’s up to us, I suppose, and what we desire from our very best technologies.

Zuckerberg has also said “one day, we (at Facebook) believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.” I believe him. But instead of billions of us being entertained, which I understand is enticing, what if we could (almost literally) experience the reality of someone thousands of miles away, a person we will never otherwise meet, one who is so much unlike us?

Or, perhaps, following a nasty spat at work, HR makes us (virtually) experience the demands, deadlines and plainly different personal outlook of the boss we think we can’t stand because she refuses to understand our situation.

Virtual reality could soon become the very best way for businesses, clubs, universities, and start-ups to tell if you are the right ‘fit’ for their organization: “your resume is amazing, Mr. Hall, but let’s see how you interact with our staff and customers first before we make our decision. Here, wear this headset for the next 60 minutes.”

Call someone a forbidden word at school and the principal may require you don the VR headset to better understand how those slings and arrows do wound. Messy? Yes. But also transformative.

The Oculus Rift headset

I am not sure we can even begin to fathom how ontologically disruptive this technology will be, even though it is on the cusp of becoming our new actual reality.

With virtual reality, we will connect with people in profound new ways. We can also connect with times and places. Ecotourism is a massive industry but I am far more excited about historical tourism — visiting a specific place not because it’s restful or beautiful but because of who was once there and what the place once meant.

I completely understand why Oculus and the others, including Microsoft’s Project Fortaleza, are starting first with gaming. Yes, I know there will be porn. But there can be so much more, and that’s what I most look forward to. Keep your high score. Take me to where and when our today was made possible.

The Next Evolution In User Interfaces

With the introduction of the iPhone, Apple introduced the touch UI and literally changed the way people interact with their smartphones. When they extended the touch UI to the iPad, it set in motion an industry stampede to create PCs, laptops, tablets, and smartphones with touch based interfaces. In the world of technology, this was a real milestone. For decades the way we navigated through our PCs was through a keyboard, mouse or Trackpad. While Apple was not the first to bring touch to tablets or smartphones, they clearly get credit for commercializing it and making it the defacto standard for next generation user interfaces.

But there were two products released recently that I have tested that I believe gives us an early glimpse at the next evolution of user interfaces. These, perhaps, will be just as ground breaking as the graphical user interface and touch UIs in the market today.

Touch Freedom

The first is a couple of gesture features that are in the new Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone. The first is called Air View. If you are in the email application on the S4, you can just “hover” your finger over the email you are looking at and the subject line and first 2 or 3 lines of the email pops up. It hovers over the actual email line so you can see what the email is about at a glance and decide if you need to read it or just move onto the next to check it out. The Air View gesture only works on the email app now but the software community will likely get the tools to be able to use it on other apps shortly. This gesture alone is a game changer in that it takes limited information on a small screen and blows it up in context so-to-speak so you can gain more info on the item you are looking at.

The second feature is just as cool. It is called Air Gesture. Have you ever been working in the kitchen with a recipe and gotten your hands dirty yet needed to go to the second page of the recipe to get the rest of the details? Well with Air Gesture, all you do is wave your hand in front of the tablet and it moves to the next page without ever touching the screen. I often take my tablet with me to restaurants when I am alone on the road and catch up on the days news, or even read a magazine or book while chowing down. Often my hands are full with knife and fork and today I actually use my knuckle to touch the screen to open a page or turn it.

To be fair, Microsoft has had gesture based user interfaces on the Xbox for almost two years, but to date it has only been designed for game consoles and has not transferred over to PCs or mobile devices yet. Both of these features on the Galaxy S4 smartphone represent the first major shift to making gestures an integral part of a mobile UI. While these two gestures are only on the S4 today, I’m sure it will eventually find its way to Samsung’s Galaxy tablets perhaps later this year.

The other gesture-based technology introduced recently comes from Leap Motion. This pad like device is used on a PC and sits in front of the monitor and between the keyboard and turns Windows into gesture based UI for supporting software. It can also be used with a laptop via a USB dongle with the device sitting in front of a laptop keyboard. Leap Motion has seeded over 10,000 developers with SDKs to make their apps work with their Leap Motion Controller. After it ships this summer, we should start to see a good amount of leap motion enabled apps later this year. HP has considered this so important that they did a major deal with Leap Motion recently and HP has committed to using it in their products in the future.

Similarly with Kinect, what is appealing about Leap Motion is the way you can interact with a game in 3D. Just use your hands as the controller, or use it to add hand controls to manipulating 3D objects. However, with support from the software community you can imagine eventually being able to just wave your hand and turn Web pages or use your hands to mold pottery on the screen, etc. The key thing here is that the Leap Motion technology is an enabler and once the software community gets behind it, it could become the next major step in making a user interface more friendly and even easier to use then it is today.

The reality is that Apple, Microsoft, Intel and others are all working on gesture based UI technology and believe that gestures represent the next significant evolution in computing interfaces. In fact, Intel has a human factors project around gestures and while not much is known about it, I would not be surprised to see the controller for gesture UIs even part of the SOC in the future.

While many had hoped voice would be the next big thing in user interfaces, there is still a lot of work in this space to be done to bring it into mainstream computing. I have no doubt that voice commands, such as the one HAL used in 2001: A Space Odyssey will eventually be the main way we interact with computers. However, for now, the next evolution will be gesture based. The technology used in Samsung’s Galaxy S4 smartphone and Leap Motion will most likely help define how gestures may soon become a major part of the interface we have on all of our computing devices.

Tablets and Disabilities

Next week I am speaking at the California Educational Technology Professionals Association’s annual gathering. I will be giving several presentations to this technology community specifically about tablets and touch computing. My focus will be how this unique form factor and touch computing will advance computing forward in ways mouse and keyboard computing simply could not.

One of the most profound aspects of touch computing is how it brings new generations into the computing era but will also advance current generations forward. The ways many elderly, who mostly avoiding computing on a grand scale, or rarely got the most of their devices, are embracing tablets and jumping in head first to the personal computing era. Or how kids can instantly pick tablets up and intuitively start using this device to its absolute fullest from the start, all without the steep learning curve of a mouse and keyboard. These are prime examples of the distinct ways touch computing is empowering millions of people every day to get more out of their personal computers.

Touch Computing and Leaning Disabilities

During a recent conversation with a friend, I was inspired to add a new element to the our presentations on tablets in order to demonstrate the profound power of touch computing. I was talking with a friend whose daughter has been diagnosed with mild dyslexia. He was explaining to me some of the exercises and therapy his daughter was going through after school in order to properly train key elements of her brain. As always, my first thought for most problems is to look for ways technology can help solve them, so I proclaimed that there must be an app to help with learning disabilities and specifically dyslexia. There have been numerous reports about how the iPad and specific applications are doing wonders for kids with Autism but I was yet to hear much around other learning disabilities. Since he and his family have an iPad, I started looking for iPad apps for learning disabilities. Sure enough there are apps for that.

As I did some research, I came across and interesting company called Tactus Therapy who has developed a number of applications specifically designed for brain therapy. They have applications to address issues around language, reading, writing, spaced retrieval and visual attention. The application on spaced retrieval is designed for brain trauma patients as well as others suffering from memory issues, and can be used as a treatment for dementia. The visual attention application is the one I became most interested in for left-to-right brain training to address dyslexia.

I purchased several of these applications for my own kids to do, simply because they are extremely good foundational exercises for the brain muscle. However, I also wanted to see how the exercises were built uniquely for touch computing. As you go through the exercises it becomes clear that although it would be possible to use a mouse and keyboard, the best possible way to go through the exercises are to use your fingers. This is especially true as it relates to left-to-right pattern recognition exercises.

If you have ever been around children as they are being taught to read, you notice that they perform an exercise of putting their finger under the word being read. In a specific exercise with the visual attention application, the child is given a specific letter, number, symbol, etc., then asked to scan line by line and touch the target. It requires using your finger to scan each line then touch. This would be fairly tricky with a mouse but more importantly defeat the critical exercise of using your finger in a left to right motion to properly focus on each symbol looking to identify key targets. Touch computing taking on dyslexia.

At a high level, I am continually impressed with the quality of learning and education focused applications on the iPad. I am a parent of two girls, one in fourth grade and one in first grade. I am constantly looking for ways to enhance their education in both useful and fun ways and the iPad is yet to disappoint. When it comes to learning and education applications the quality of apps on iPad trounces every other platform. For parents, I would imagine that is a key point.

These are simply a few examples of many regarding the ways that the iPad and touch computing are changing the way we think about computers and how different groups of consumers use them. In fact if you have never done it, I encourage you to look at Apple’s specifics on accessibility features for iPad. What’s fascinating about this element of touch computing for those with disabilities is that it is an extremely small market yet Apple has built specific features and functions for those with disabilities right into iOS and OS X. Other platforms can cater to folks with disabilities but require third party apps.

As I dig deeper into these examples of the power of touch computers, the more I am convinced that tablets represent the computer for everyone.

The PC is the Titanic and the Tablet is the Iceberg. Any Questions?

Most tech pundits are confused about the Tablet computer. They compare the abilities of the PC (traditional notebook and desktop computers) to those of the Tablet and find the Tablet wanting. They can’t understand how the Tablet can be so dog gone popular when it makes for such a terrible PC.

What they don’t understand is that the tablet isn’t trying to be a PC (unless it’s the Microsoft Surface). Tablet sales are exploding because the Tablet is competing against…nothing. The Tablet is going where the PC is weak and where the PC is absent. There’s virtually nothing standing in the tablet’s way.

Comparing the PC to the tablet is like comparing the Titanic to the iceberg that sank it. It wasn’t the one-ninth of the iceberg protruding above the waterline that sank the Titanic. It was the eight-ninths of the iceberg that lurked beneath the surface of the waters. Similarly, it isn’t the few overlapping tasks that the PC and the Tablet can both do well that matters most. It is the tasks that the Tablet excels at – and which the PC does poorly or not at all – that will ultimately reduce the PC to niche status and turn the Tablet into the preeminent computing device of our time.

The PC and the Tablet – like the Titanic and the tip of that fateful iceberg – do compete on rare occasions. Companies like SAP and IBM have ordered tens of thousands of Tablets and some of those Tablets have replaced traditional PCs, especially in those instance where the PC was overkill for the task it was originally assigned to do.

But let’s be real. The PC is a better PC than the tablet is, or ever will be. The number of Tablets that will directly replace PCs will never amount to great numbers. Accordingly, we should no more fear the Tablet replacing the PC than the lookouts on the Titantic should have feared the the damage that could have been caused by protruding tip of the Iceberg. They knew, and we should know, that that’s not where the real danger lies.

There are millions upon millions of Tablets that are supplementing, rather than replacing, the PC. These Tablets are being used by Lawyers and Financiers, by CEOs and Presenters, by Presidents and Prime Ministers, by Queens and by Parliaments. The Tablet frees the owner from the constraints of their PCs. They can use the PC when they are at their desks and use the tablet to take their data with them wherever they may go.

These tablets will not sink the PC because they complement the PC. However, they may well extend the life of the PC, thus slowing the PC’s upgrade – and sales – cycles.

The bulk of the iceberg that destroyed the Titanic lay beneath the surface of the waters, beneath the vision of the lookouts, beneath the ship’s waterline. Similarly, the bulk of the tasks that the Tablet excels at, lies beneath the PC’s level of awareness, beneath the PC’s contemptuous gaze, beneath the PC’s areas of expertise and far, far below it’s area of competence. The PC will not lose in a fair fight, anymore than the Titanic lost in a fair fight. Instead, the Tablet will hit the PC where the PC is weakest – below it’s metaphorical “waterline”.


Tablets excel at working while you are standing. Tasks done by matre d’s, inventory takers, tour guides, concierges, face-to-face service providers and order takers of every kind, benefit from the use of the tablet.

Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as a stand-while-you-work device? No, it cannot.


Tablets excel at working when one has to move and stop and move yet again. Car Dealerships, like Mercedes Benz, are giving tablets to their salespeople. European doctors are rapidly taking to the tablet. Service Technicians at Siemens Energy are using tablets while servicing power installations. Scientists are using tablets during field research. Nurses, Realtors, Journalists, Park Rangers, Medical Technicians…the list of users and uses is nearly endless.

Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as a work-and-move, and work-and-move-aagin, device? No, it cannot.

  • SALES:

If you’re in Sales, you’re into Tablets. Whether you’re traveling or standing or presenting or taking an order and acquiring a signature – Tablets are a salesperson’s best friend.

Salesforce purchased 1,300 tablets and Boston Scientific purchased 4,500 tablet for their respective sales forces. And just this week, NBA Star, Deron Williams, signed a $98 million dollar contract…on a tablet.

Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as a sales computing assistant? No, it cannot.


While the PC makes for a terrible Kiosk, the tablet is almost ideally suited to the task. Tablets as Kiosks are making their presence known in places as diverse as malls, taxi cabs, hospitals, the Louisiana Department of Motor Vehicles, and the FastPass lanes at Disney World.

In the coming years there will be millions of Kiosks converted to Tablets and millions more in new Kiosks created from Tablets.

Can the PC adequately compete with the Tablet as a Kiosk? No, it cannot.


Today there are millions upon millions of antiquated PCs being used as some form of cash register or point of sale device. Let me put this as diplomatically as I can – they suck.

They’re going to be replaced by Tablets, almost overnight. And tens of millions of new Tablets are going to be used as cash registers and point of sale devices in all sorts of new and unexpected places.

Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as a Cash Register? No it cannot.


I’ve been hearing about the “paperless office” since the 1970’s. Yet every year, the PC generates ever more, not less, paper. But that was yesterday. Today the Tablet may finally be able to fulfill the promise that the PC so carelessly made – and broke – those many years ago.

Airlines such as United and Alaska are replacing their in-flight maps with Tablets. The United States Air Force is replacing their manuals with Tablets.

Construction companies are replacing their on-site blueprints with Tablets.

Governmental bodies of every shape and size are reducing paperwork through the use of Tablets. City councils and municipalities have jumped on the bandwagon. The Polish Parliament and the Dutch Senate have substituted Tablets for paper printouts of the documents read by their members. The British Parliament just replaced 650 of their computers with Tablets. And the President of the United States and the Queen and Prime Minister of England have all used Tablets in their briefings.

Twelve NFL teams, including the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens have replaced their paper playbooks with tablets. In Major League Baseball, the Cincinatti Reds have done the same. And at Ohio State, all the athletic programs are replacing their playbooks with tablets. Can there be any doubt that this trend will extend ever outward and ever downward to every professional team, every college team, every high school team and even, eventually, perhaps to amateur sports teams?

Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as a paper replacement? No it cannot.


Tablets are starting to show up as “loaners” that are lent out as entertainment devices. They’re being purchased by libraries. Airplanes run by Singapore Airlines and Qantas use them as in-flight entertainment devices. Airports like New York’s LaGuardia, Minneapolis-St. Paul International and Toronto Pearson International, lend them out to waiting passengers. The Tablet is ideally suited for the task. It is light, it is portable, it is versatile, it displays content beautifully and it is sublimely easy to use.

Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as a Loaner? No, it cannot.


PCs in schools are mostly relegated to teachers and computer labs. Tablets live in the classroom and they reside in the hands of the students. No one wants to learn HOW to use computers anymore. Students simply want to use computers to help them learn.

The Tablet is starting to take educational institutions by storm. It acts as an electronic blackboard, as a digital textbook and as an interactive textbook.

It’s at the K-12 level (the San Diego School district just ordered 26,000) and at the Universities (Adams Center for Teaching and Learning at Abilene Christian University, George Fox University, North Carolina State University in Raleigh). Tablets are even finding their way into the top-tier high schools in China.

Some schools have even reported a 10% improvement in the exam scores of students who use Tablets in lieu or paper books.

Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet in education? No, it cannot.


The tablet excels at creating new computer users. This might seem a bit controversial, but it shouldn’t be. Just think of anyone who says that they hate computers – they’re a candidate for a Tablet. Just think of anyone who is too young or too old or too infirm or too disabled to use a PC – someone like a 3 year old or a 93 year old or a recovering cancer patient or an autistic child or someone with learning disabilities. They’re all perfect candidates for the Tablet. The tablet will create a whole new class of computer users – people who have never used a computer before.

Can the PC adequately compete with the tablet as no-fuss, no-muss computing device? No it cannot.


What makes the Tablet so very exciting is that we haven’t even begun to touch on it’s full potential yet. With desktops, we were desk bound. With notebooks, we were surface bound. The Tablet allows us to do new tasks in new places and in new ways.

And it’s virtually impossible to say what these tasks will be. We’re limited by our experience and the scope of our imaginations. Tablets are going to be used in ways that we haven’t even begun to think of yet.


Can the PC compete with the Tablet while standing, while moving, in sales, as Kiosks, as Point of Sale devices, as paper replacers, as loaners, in education, with wholly new users in wholly new uses? No, it cannot.

It is in these areas – the areas that are below the PC’s level of competence, below the PC’s level of contempt – that the Tablet will establish its empire. And there is simply nothing that the PC can do to stop it.

Like Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic, the Captains of Dell, HP, Google, Microsoft and many other computing companies, have failed to adequately grasp the true significance of the danger they are facing. They looked at the Tablet and thought: “What the hey, I can avoid that dinky little tablet floating there on top of the waters. It’s no bigger than an ice cube! It’s no threat to me and my business at all!” But what they forgot, is that most of the tablet’s strength lies hidden beneath the optimal level of the PC, i.e., beneath the PC’s “water line”. THAT is where the real danger to the PC lies.


So, what should all of this be telling us?

Is the PC really the Titanic?

Sure, why not. The PC may sink beneath the waves like the Titanic did…but it will leave hundreds of very large “life boats” in it wake. Anywhere that the PC is weak and the Tablet is strong, the PC will cease to exist. And that’s a LOT of places. But the PC will continue to exist – just in a much diminished state.

It is not so much that the PC market will grow smaller (which it will) that matters. It’s much more a matter of the Tablet market growing larger. Much, much larger. Soon the ships that are the PC will be floating atop a sea of Tablets. And what was once a “Titanic” PC industry, will merely be just one component of a much larger, and much more diversified, personal computing industry.

Is the Tablet Really an Iceberg?

Sure, let’s go with that. The important thing to note is that the portion of the Tablet market that everyone is focused on – the portion directly challenging the PC – that portion is, by far, the smallest and the least dangerous portion of the Tablet market.

Tablets will not so much reduce the number of PCs we use as they will simply outgrow the total number of PCs in use. Tablets are additive. They will replace a few PCs but mostly they will replace millions upon millions of tasks that never before were done with the assistance of computers. While everyone is bemoaning the fact that PC sales are flat or diminishing, the reality is that the actual sales of personal computers are currently exploding. True, the PC market is shrinking. But mostly, the Tablet market is growing, and it is growing so fast that it will soon overtake the PC market.

Like the iceberg, it is the rest of the Tablet market – the part that has not yet been fully discovered – that will overwhelm the PC. There will be far more Tablets than PCs simply because there are far more tasks that the Tablet can do, and do well, than tasks that the PC can do, and do well.

This is a novel concept for most. We tend to think of computing only in terms of the tasks that the PC is capable of doing today. We define those tasks that computers are currently doing as the only tasks that could possibly require a computer.

But the number of tasks being done WITHOUT the assistance of a computer dwarfs those that are currently being done WITH the assistance of a computer. And while the PC has pretty much maxed out the number of tasks that it can do, the limits to the number of tasks that the Tablet can do are undefined – and nearly endless.

Why I am Convinced Tablets are the Future

During the course of many conversations I have been having lately with industry insiders there is still a drastic underestimation of the importance of tablets. There are some I talk to who get it but I still feel that largely the sentiment around tablets and the iPad in particular is that it is a toy and not a personal computer. So in this column I am hoping to articulate my view on this subject.

More Consumption and Light Production Than Heavy Lifting

I know thinking objectively from other peoples vantage points is a challenge for many people. I am close friends with many of these people. However considering many different views and specifically trying to get inside peoples heads and see things from their perspective is something I greatly enjoy. That probably explains why I love anthropology and ethnographic research. The key point is that just because one consumer can not replace their laptop with a tablet does not mean that another consumer can not. Consumer preferences and usage models are not universal.

My conviction, which stems from my observational research with consumers, which we conducted at Creative Strategies, is that a large amount of consumers do not do complex things with their computers. I recall some research we did four years ago trying to gauge the importance and perceived demand of increased CPU performance by mass market consumers. In this research consumers shared with us how they use their PCs. What we observed was that the majority of consumers we interviewed used less than five primary applications on a daily basis and none of those applications were CPU intensive.

To further highlight this observation I want to share a chart containing some research from Alpha Wise and Morgan Stanley. In a large survey with mainstream consumers, their research findings came back very similar to our observational research. Specifically that roughly 75% of the time consumers were not using their PCs to do things we would consider “heavy lifting.” Although I am not sure that term applies to the mass market consumer.

Now the question I have after looking at that chart is: Which of the above tasks can not be done on an iPad? The answer is none.

Now if you are like me and you have large numbers of friends, family, social acquaintances, people who come up to me when they see me using my iPad with a keyboard at Starbucks, etc., then you probably give advice on what types of technology to buy. So when I ask them what they use their computers for, the answer almost always comes back the same. Not much they say, I mainly browse the internet, check email, watch videos, and occasionally need to make a spreadsheet or use a word processor.

Interestingly the overwhelming majority of conversations I have had around this topic, the person asking me the question is already leaning toward an iPad because they recognize it can do most of what they need it to the large majority of the time. So the question generally centers around whether or not they need a new notebook or whether they should just get an iPad and keep using their old notebook.

The long and short of it is that unless the person asking the question is a power user, creative professional, etc., it is very hard to not recommend them getting an iPad and just keep using the notebook they have for the less than 15% of the time they may possibly need it. You can probably guess what my advice generally is and I know many happy consumers who have taken this path.

Things We Hold We Love

Now I want to make one last point. The fascinating thing about tablets besides the points I made above, is that we don’t just touch them when we use them, we hold them. I am convinced there is something psychological about this that makes the tablet more personal than a notebook. With a notebook we touch (the keyboard and mouse / trackpad) but we don’t hold it while using it. The notebook form factor is not conducive to this usage model because it must be sitting on a flat surface, like a desk, table, or lap to be used.

We also hold tablets much closer to our person while we use them the majority of the time. Whereas with notebooks, we keep them at arms length. This fundamental difference in closeness is another reason I believe there is a deeper psychological attachment and lure to tablets than with notebooks.

If I was to rank emotional attachment to devices of a personal nature I would say the smartphone comes first, then the tablet, then the notebook. Smartphones and tablets we touch to use and hold to use, while the notebook we just touch, and I use the word touch loosely with the notebook form factor because it is not a touch computer like the smartphone and tablet–and I am not convinced it ever will be.

The fundamental truth is that there is a distinctly different relationship consumers are beginning to form with tablets that they never developed with notebooks. We continually hear in consumer interviews how much people love their iPads and can not live without it. Had this attachment developed with notebooks they wouldn’t have delegated them to the back room. And think about the millions (and growing) of kids who are developing this relationship with tablets in their formative years. I am confident my kids will have no use for a notebook in the future. Desktop maybe, or perhaps central home server, but notebook– not so much.

Following my logic, it should not be tough to see why we are so bullish on tablets. There are the above reasons, along with many more than I have time to get into (but will in our upcoming tablet report, shameless plug), which are all transforming and reshaping this industry before our eyes. The challenge is not everyone sees it.

Touch Computing and The Re-Birth of the Software Industry

It seems like you can’t go anywhere in Silicon Valley without hearing about someone who’s making an app. Apps are all the rage these days and software engineering is one of the hottest jobs all over the world. But in the not too distant past, there wasn’t this much excitement around software.

In fact, I have heard from many executives who have been around a while that the excitement around software and apps today reminds them of the same excitement around software when personal computers were first gaining steam.

Although there are some similarities between the industry today and the PC software industry when it was first getting started, the excitement around software today is taking place on an entirely different kind of computer. The excitement around software today is entirely focused on touch computers like smartphones and tablets.

Smartphones are contributing and are the device that began this new app economy but tablets are where the next real software innovations will be focused on in my opinion. I say this because I am a big believer in the tablets ability to take significant time away from the traditional PC. Our research indicates that consumers are comfortable doing the vast majority of tasks they used traditional PCs for in the past on their tablet. Because of that point we feel the tablet represents one of the most exciting platforms which will lead a new software revolution.

Starting Over

I think a strong case could be made that much of the focus of the software industry over the past few decades has been on professionals and the workplace. In my opinion, only in the last five years have we had what I would consider a pure, mature consumer market. The maturity of the consumer market for personal computers is the foundation that has led to the rebirth of the software industry. If the first phase of the software industry was focused largely on businesses, then the next phase will be largely based on consumers.

Although we can articulate what is happening by proclaiming that the software industry is being reborn, in all actuality it’s starting over. The first software phase was all about creating software for desktops and then eventually laptop computers. Both were driven primarily by mouse and keyboard input mechanisms. The software generating all the excitement today is fully around touch as an input mechanism. Given the drastic differences between touch computing and mouse and keyboard computing, software developers are reinventing or at the very least re-imagining their software around touch computing. It is this reinventing and re-imagining of the software industry — brought about by touch computing — that leads me to believe it’s almost like it’s starting over more than it’s being reborn.

New Hardware Is Driving New Software

This rebirth of the software industry is being driven primarily because of new hardware that’s selling like hotcakes to the masses. Although it’s easy to get excited about all the shiny new smartphone and tablet hardware, it’s important to remember that hardware is only as good as the software it runs. I could own the most amazing and elegant piece of hardware, but if it runs poor software, it’s no better than a paperweight.

When I speak with software developers who are driving this new phase of software, they’re largely focused on the iPad and the iPhone. These two platforms are giving software developers valuable experience in gaining expertise, making the next generation of touch software much more personal. This is important because new platforms incorporating touch are on the horizon based on Windows 8.

Windows 8 presents a radical departure from the normal desktop/notebook operating system that Microsoft usually churns out. Windows 8 will be the first OS to combine a touch-based operating system (called Metro) with a mouse-and-keyboard operating system and a familiar Windows interface. These two experiences combined together will lead to a new generation of notebooks, desktops, and tablet-notebook hybrids, all with touch interfaces.

Regardless of your opinion about Microsoft’s approach with Windows 8, the reality is that over the next few years, touch computing is coming to a wide range of laptops and desktops.

What’s Next?

That’s a great question, and my answer may surprise you. I believe the next big software craze will be around television. I know it may seem crazy to think about running apps on your TV, but that’s what I think is next. Google is already going down this path with Google TV, letting software developers make apps for the big screen; Samsung is also doing this with its line of Smart TVs. And there’s speculation that Apple has big plans for the TV industry — if that’s true, I believe apps will be a part of the strategy.

Even though there are products on the market that let you run apps on your TV, those developers have yet to re-imagine their apps on the big screen. Just as software developers are having to re-imagine their software for touch computing, they will have to do the same thing for the TV.

We live in extremely exciting times and things will get even more exciting. I firmly believe we will see more fascinating innovations centered around personal computing hardware and software over the next 10 years than we ever saw in the past 30 years of the PC of the industry, and I’m glad that we’ll get a chance to observe them firsthand.

Tablet Computing in Portrait Mode

Last week I wrote about my two must have iPad accessories. In that list I included the Logitech Ultra-thin Keyboard Cover. Among the many reasons I like this case over similarly good ones like the Zagg Folio or the Adonit is because it allows me to do computing on my iPad in portrait mode. It is very interesting to me that so many companies who make keyboard accessories assume that when you want to use the keyboard you want to use it with the screen sideways or in landscape mode. Even the Logitech Ultra-thin case has the smart cover magnet in the dock groove assuming you want to prop it up with the screen horizontal. Notice most tablet manufacturers orient their buttons and ports in a way that assumes mostly a landscape over a portrait mode of use. The iPad is the exception where the buttons and ports seem to by oriented for more portrait mode–at least in my opinion.

Interestingly, I have found that my preferred use for docking the iPad and using the keyboard is in portrait mode. I am convinced that computing in portrait mode is far superior to landscape mode for many different tasks. This hit me the hardest when I used the iPad for the first time for browsing the web. Browsing the web in portrait mode is by far the best way to browse the web. This should be obvious since many websites are designed with up and down scrolling rather than left to right. Browsing the web in portrait mode allows you to see more of the website at one time. Beyond browsing the web there is another use case that I believe computing in portrait mode is far superior for and that is writing.

Better In Portrait Mode

I do quite a bit of writing whether it be reports, columns, or even responding to clients with lengthy emails. This is one of the reasons that using a keyboard accessory with my iPad is a must. Writing while using the iPad in portrait mode is a powerful experience. The primary reason for this is because you can see more words on the page when writing in portrait mode. Throughout human history, whether penned by hand, or while using a typewriter with a paper stand in the back, producing the written word on a medium that is longer than it is wide has been the norm. When you see people using pen and paper today you don’t normally see them turning the pad of paper sideways. Yet if you think about it, writing, working, and being productive while looking at a medium that is longer than it is wide is something that is foreign to the world of computers.

Computing in portrait mode is relatively unexplored territory. Since the beginning computers have had square monitors which eventually evolved into the norm for today which is 16:9 landscape. Due to the standard landscape orientation of computers to date, software has mostly been written with this screen orientation in mind. What happens, given the massive growth of tablets, and the fact that they are also computers, if software developers start thinking of writing software for use while in portrait mode? Most apps today, with the exception of things like games, support different screen orientations. What is missing is that the user experience with the software does not change much based on my screen orientation. Apple’s Mail app actually does change the UI when in portrait or landscape mode. However, when I am in portrait mode I can focus on the email because the side bar containing my inbox goes away. But when in landscape, the inbox sidebar is present and stays in sight.

This is a good example of a software interface being designed to make the application useful whether it is in portrait or landscape mode. Different screen orientations will present different looks and ways to use screen real estate. I believe that as software developers re-imagine their software for tablets they will also consider dual screen orientation experiences with the same software.

Portrait vs. Landscape

With this in mind I have been thinking a lot about the types of things I prefer to do while in portrait versus landscape modes with the iPad. Nearly all tasks that would qualify as productive I prefer to do in portrait mode. While the other tasks, with the exception of web browsing, like playing games, watching video, etc., I prefer to do in landscape mode. Reading is sometimes productive and sometimes for entertainment but either way reading is far better in portrait mode over landscape. This of course makes sense for things like video since they are produced in widescreen not portrait. For games it depends on the game since there are many great games that use both screen orientations. What has stood out for me though was how many tasks that were considered working or productive tasks that I preferred using the iPad in portrait mode.

This is something that is only possible with tablet computers since laptops and desktops are not designed to allow you to change your screen orientation based on the software experience you desire to have. This also makes a very compelling case for a keyboard accessory for a tablet.

One of my biggest complaints with the iPad’s virtual keyboard is not that I can’t type fast on it because I actually can. My biggest complaint is that I can’t use it for any real productive input while in portrait mode. And when I use it in landscape mode it takes up nearly half the screen leaving me with very little of the software application to see while typing. This completely defeats the profound experience I have while writing in portrait mode due to how much of the screen and words I can see at one time.

These are the kinds of experiences that are only available on the tablet form factor. I hope that as keyboard accessories continue to get refined and perfected, so will the software that will change not only our computing paradigm from mouse and keyboard to touch but to also break away from landscape computing as the only mode for working on a tablet.

Notebooks are the Past, Tablets are the Future

This may be one of the more controversial columns I have written in sometime, although my goal is not to be controversial but to spur thought- so please hear me out. It is no secret that I am very bullish on the tablet form factor.

I have written extensively about them since the launch of the first iPad about my beliefs in this product’s role in the future of computing. But there are still many in the industry who have long watched, predicted, and benefited from the evolution of the desktop computer to the notebook and its success world wide that disagree with the more bullish thinking about tablets replacing laptops eventually.

At analyst meetings I attend and during many conversations with industry folk, I constantly hear a theme of tablets turning into notebooks. In essence there is a belief that the tablet form factor will evolve in form and function to look more like a notebook rather than less. This device is in essence the convergence of a notebook with a tablet. There is a good chance that with Windows 8 this form factor will appeal to a segment of the market. Even if that happens, and because of Windows 8, I believe that it is inevitable that all major software going forward will be re-imagined for touch interfaces first and foremost.

Notebooks of Old Will Become Relics

Because of the incredible growth of the iPad and smartphones over recent years, nearly all software developers have turned their eyes to touch. I have been one of the foremost proponents of touch computing and I firmly believe it is the foundation of our computing future. With that reality in mind, it seems clear to me clear that the software industry has been reborn around touch computing–R.I.P Computer-Aided Display Control (aka Mouse).

It is because of this new computing paradigm built from the ground up around touch that when I see notebooks I feel like I am looking at the past. Yet when I see how kids, elderly, non-techies, first time computer users in emerging markets, and more, all use the iPad, I am convinced I am looking at the future.

If you read my column on the new era of personal computing, I made the statement that notebooks are not actually mobile computers but are really portable desktops with compromises made on behalf of portability. In fact it was fascinating to hear Apple’s COO Peter Oppenheimer refer to the Mac business as desktops and portables–that’s my kind of industry terminology! Many desktop use cases are the same on notebooks. The only difference between the two is that one is portable and one is not. The iPad is however much more of a personal mobile computer than a notebook ever was or will be and the drastic change in use cases between the iPad and notebooks is significant.

I don’t know anyone who owns an iPad who has stopped using their notebook or desktop entirely. Sometimes there are times when you want a larger screen and a keyboard to accomplish some tasks. This is the best argument for the hybrid tablet / notebook computer. However, acknowledging that for some tasks a larger screen and keyboard are convenient, there is another scenario I can see playing out that may make the notebook form factor irrelevant for many consumers.

The Desktops New Role

Believe it or not, I see desktops making a comeback due to a role change. There is an interesting trend emerging around desktops. Consumer all-in-one Desktops (Like the iMac) are being designed to be showcased prominently in the house rather than stuck in the den or office. These computers will be very elegant, very powerful, and very affordable. So rather than try to converge a notebook and a tablet, I think a better solution is to pair a desktop all-in-one with a tablet. This would especially be interesting in consumer markets.

In this solution, when you want a big screen, keyboard, etc., you get it in a no compromise package with more processing power, graphics, memory, and storage than you would ever get in a converged tablet / notebook or a laptop. Then when you want a mobile computer you get a no compromise mobile computer with a tablet. I think this makes a lot of sense, perhaps even more than a converged notebook / tablet for the mass market.

Without fully testing one of these converged notebook / tablet devices it is hard to say this with absolute confidence but my fear with this converged form factor is that it will be a compromised notebook and a compromised tablet. Even though it is trying to be the best of both worlds, my fear is that it fails at both, or at the very least is heavily compromised on both fronts. Plus, if you buy my logic that a notebook is just a portable desktop, then the notebook becomes irrelevant in a desktop / tablet solution.

Of course the cloud and specifically the relationship between a desktop and a tablet would need to evolve quite a bit more than it is today for this to work. That is why I refer to it as a solution because it would need to have solution based thinking for this particular scenario to be done right.

This even works in a family setting where each person of the house has their own tablet screen and the desktop remains the communal screen for more “heavy lifting.” Each person’s cloud would have to work harmoniously on a personal level and also at a family level.

I have in fact been trying this experiment for myself at my house. Using a desktop as my primary big screen computer and a tablet for all my other mobile use cases. It is surprisingly sufficient already even without being built with this specific use case in mind.

Now realistically the notebook form factor will always exist for a certain segment. This model may not work for business users or mobile professionals. But I am beginning to wonder whether this desktop paired with a tablet solution may be a very attractive proposition for the mass consumer market. In this scenario everyone in the home has their own personal tablet rather than everyone having their own personal notebook. This scenario is not tomorrow, next year, or even a few years away but I would not be shocked if this solution gains traction at some point in time in the future.

This topic again is meant more of a thought exercise around a scenario that I could see playing out. Rarely am I struck with such a feeling that when I look at the excitement from many vendors around notebooks that I am sensing they are investing in the past, not in the future. But that is exactly the feeling I am having of late.

Where in the App Store is Carmen Sandiego?

One of the goals we have in my household is to develop and maintain an inquisitive culture and the desire to learn. Being immersed in the technology industry as I am, I naturally add technology as a part of that process. One of my favorite examples of how we have done this was with an app called iBird Explorer Western.

My family and I live just outside San Jose in an agricultural / rural part of the area and because of that we see quite a wide variety of birds we never encountered in the city. My oldest daughter (age 9) and I both have the app on our iDevices, mine on my iPhone and hers on the iPod Touch. It has been remarkable to see how quickly she can spot a new bird in the wild and quickly use the app to identify the bird and learn interesting facts.

Even more recently in this process she has begun playing a game called Stack the States fairly regularly. This game teaches her facts about US states as well as how to identify them and place them on a map. It does so in a way that makes learning fun and technology at its best should accomplish that goal when it comes to education.

Because of my desire to integrate technology into the learning process and inquisitive nature of my kids, I began thinking of games I appreciated as a kid that did the same. The first one that came to mind, for my wife and I, was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

This game did a great job, in my opinion, of integrating game play with lessons on geography and other facts that was fun and educational. I had been watching for a while, and still to no avail, the arrival of this game in the iTunes App Store. This game seems like an ideal game for iOS devices and I am still surprised it is not there. The company that owns the rights called The Learning Company also owns the rights to The Oregon Trail, a game that is available for iOS and quite popular.

Game developers are smart to be using legacy franchises to bring games into the touch computing era. As devices like the iPad get integrated more into the learning process at different age levels, these games can provide a solid base to build upon and bring to tablets and more.

Apple’s re-invigoration of the software community is creating new possibilities with game software on computing devices and especially those that are touch based.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego is one of many legacy franchises that I hope make it to touch devices. Such software and the software development communities focus on creating games that are fun and educational are positive trends that I would like to see continue.

Why The iPad Will Change How We Work

What is becoming more clear every day is the way in which tablets are changing paradigms of computing that have existed for decades. The entire way we think about computers, and computing in general, is undergoing significant change. In the days of the desktop and notebook, computing hardware and software was functionally the same and remained relatively unchanged. Specifically how we used a mouse and keyboard as the main way to interact, work, play, produce, create, etc.

The iPad launched a new day in computing, one where the paradigm of mouse and keyboard computing gave way to touch based computing. In the early days it was programs like VisiCalc which paved the way for computers to move from hobby to office tool. Today we have a slew of apps on the iPad that are being created every day that are proving the iPad is more than a consumption and entertainment device and is a powerful tool in which genuine creation and productive jobs can be accomplished.

I have thought about this for a while and we have written extensively about many of the ways touch computing opens the door to new opportunities. However, it wasn’t until recently, with the launch of iPhoto on the iPad, that I have come to a deeper realization of how profound this change may be. That is why I choose to title this column the way I did. I truly believe the iPad and more specifically touch based computing will entirely change the way we work, create, produce, and more.

Tough Tasks Become Easier

While going through and analyzing the slew of information in the help tips for iPhoto for iPad I came to a profound realization. When it comes to content creation, touch and software optimized for touch, allows us to do with ease, tasks that were either very difficult or extremely time consuming with mouse and keyboard computing. This may or may not apply to all tasks or all software but there are certainly tasks that shine on touch platforms. iPhoto for iPad is one of the clearest cases of this.

I have been into photography since high school, taking photo for three years, and staying active since always trying to make perfect photographs. I also would call myself a advanced user of Photoshop. As I have been using iPhoto for iPad more and more it has become clear how powerful of a tool iPhoto for iPad is when it comes to photo editing. What’s more is that iPhoto, when paired with touch optimized software, actually makes extremely complex tasks much easier and enjoyable than with a mouse and keyboard.

A key example of this is adjusting colors in a photo. If I took a photo and wanted to adjust the color in just the sky for example, I would need to isolate the sky and then tweak the color elements independently. With iPhoto for iPad you simply touch then slide to the left and the software adjusts just the blue skies to your liking. With one single touch iPhoto on iPad accomplishes a task that would take a minimum of 5 clicks with a keyboard and mouse and probably 5 min or so of precision mouse work. This is just one example of many of a way that touch computing will change how we work today and of course in the future.

Mainstream Consumers Can Now Participate

Using again the Photoshop example another realization struck me. If I sat my kids or my wife down in front of the desktop or notebook, opened Photoshop and an image and had them try to edit it, there would be mass confusion. I would have to spend quite a bit of time teaching them several basic things just to get them started.

Mastering a program like photoshop is no easy task for the non-techie, think of all the seminars that exist for software and computer literacy. All of this changes with the iPad and touch based computing. I gave my kids the iPad, opened iPhoto and an image, and let them go. Watching them for five minutes they figured out how to adjust colors, lighten areas of an image and add effects (they are 6 and 9).

They nearly mastered a program in under 10 minutes and began doing professional level tasks in that short time frame. This would be nearly impossible without extensive time and training using a mouse, keyboard, menus, icon palettes, etc.

Touch based computing opens the doors to brining true computing to the masses. Think about how many consumers out there have notebooks or desktops, running software capable of creating amazing things and they never use it or when they do they don’t take advantage of its full potential. Touch computing changes all of this and is the foundation that will bring more consumers to create and produce things they never would have using a mouse and keyboard.

A quote I am fond of is “simple solutions require sophisticated technology.” The iPad, and it touch computing software ecosystem is one of the most sophisticated technologies on the market today. It is no wonder that the iPad is enabling simple solutions and inviting more and more consumers to participate in computing in ways they never have before.

Although I focused this column on how the iPad and touch based computing will change how we work, produce, and create, we ultimately believe that this platform will also change the way we play, learn, be entertained, and much more.

It all boils down to the fact that the iPad is changing everything.

We Are Entering the True Era of Personal Computing

Remember that old HP campaign “The computer is personal again?”  I remember seeing that campaign and thinking to myself, when did the computer become un-personal? I’ve been cogitating on this term “personal computer” and in light of the recent debate of whether the iPad is a PC, I have come to some personal conclusions on this topic.

I would also like to preface this by saying that I agree with how Tim Cook illustrated what Post PC meant. He explained how Post PC means the PC is no longer the center. That is true. However, we are using this term “post pc” only because a desktop or notebook form factor is what has been associated with “PC.” We should not forget that the term PC literally means personal computer. So my overarching point is that we are actually in what is truly the PC (personal computing) era. My logic is as follows.

First lets look at some computing history.   To do that I am going to look at the evolution of personal computing by calling out specific “eras” of computing.   The first era was the birth of computing. During this era computing was in its infancy. Things like the transistor, then the microprocessor were invented which paved the way for computing.   During the first stage of computing, computers were quite large and normally filled a room mostly and in the form of mainframes then eventually minis.   Many visionaries dreamed of making these devices smaller so people could bring them into their homes and own their own computer.   This vision paved the way for desktop computing. 

Desktop Computing

This is the second era of computing.  What most during this time would consider the personal computer I will call a desktop computer.   The term personal came from the idea that each “person” would have one.  When computers were largely mainframes or minis they were too big for each person to own.   Bill Gates famously said “some day there will be computer on every desk.”   This was the result of the next evolution of computing as computers become smaller and were able to now fit on desks as well as become more affordable.  Of course these devices could become personal in the sense that a person owned them and could personalize them to a degree.  But more personal computers were still ahead. 

Portable Computing

The next era was the era of portable computing.   This was the era of notebooks.   Some call this mobile computing but my argument is that notebooks were really more portable computers than they were mobile.   Meaning you could move them more easily than a desktop but you still sat down and were stationary using the device at arms length (generally) to type.  My point is you weren’t actually doing computing while being mobile–you were still stationary.    

Notebooks certainly took us one step closer to personal computing because they added an element of portability. They tended to travel with a select person who largely customized the notebook thus making it more personal to that individual.   I would argue that the notebook is actually the first truly personal computer and birthed personal computing.   

Now enter smart phones and tablets.   The Merriam-Webster definition of a computer is:

“a programmable usually electronic device that can store, retrieve, and process data.”

Another definition I found in the dictionary says:

“An electronic device for storing and processing data, typically in binary form, according to instructions given to it in a variable program.” 

So my first question is how is a tablet and smart phone not considered a computer?  I also highly customize my smart phone and tablet for my own tastes and likings via software, personal data storage, access to media, and take them with me everywhere I go.   So how exactly how are they not also personal?  Thus one would have to logically conclude that smart phones and tablets are in fact personal computers on which computing tasks take place.  

What we need to realize in this evolution of personal computing is that devices like smart phones and tablets represent a form factor evolution of computing similarly to the way the desktop form factor evolved to the notebook form factor.   This evolution led to portable personal computing and it made computing possible in places that were before impossible with a desktop–like at Starbucks.  The evolution of the personal computer form factor from notebook to tablet and smart phone represents the evolution to truly mobile personal computing.   Again bringing computing to places not before possible or were before inconvenient–like the couch, bed, walking down the street, etc.  

The Era of Mobile Personal Computers

My point earlier was that notebooks were more portable than they were mobile due to the form factor of a notebook still requiring its user to be stationary, with the device resting on a surface being used at arms length.   Devices like tablets and smart phones change this computing paradigm.  We can hold these devices in our hands and use them, we can move around while using them, we can use them in a range of places and situations where a desktop or notebook could never be used.   Places like point of sale retail, by waiters, or car salesman, while running through the woods, while hunting, while boating, at the park, at the beach, etc.   

The tablet and smart phone form factor represent what I believe are the best form factors for truly mobile personal computing.   Thus they are simply form factor evolutions in personal computing not something other than a personal computer.  

Can they replace other form factors?

The answer is no; tablets in particular are not replacing PCs, at least not in the foreseeable future.   Rather what is happening is tasks or jobs are being replaced.  Things that once were done primarily on the notebook or desktop form factor are now being done largely on devices like tablets and other form factors. In essence the best way to think about this is that time is shifting from notebooks or desktops to tablets and smart phones

Prior to tablets, for example, the notebook owned the bulk of a consumers time when it came to computing tasks like searching the web, consuming media, checking email, etc.  Now with tablets, time has been shifted to the tablet or smart phone where the form factor is more convenient for tasks like browsing the web, checking email, etc, in many situations.   

Each form factor has a role to play.  Based on the list of computing tasks consumers perform, the form factors play a role in making those jobs easier to accomplish.    In this environment what happens is that consumers spread their time across a number of form factors to accomplish computing holistically.  

Before one “personal computer” monopolized consumers time.  Now time is shared between computing devices in the ecosystem in order to accomplish a wider range of computing tasks.  Things that were not possible, or were harder to accomplish with previous form factors become possible with new computing form factor evolutions that stick in the market.

Rather than look at tablets and smart phones as separate from PCs it would be more helpful to look at them within the larger personal computing ecosystem.  If we did this then we would not be arguing about whether the “death of the PC” is imminent or the degree at which PC sales are slowing.   Instead we would be talking about the growth of the PC industry as well as the expansion of personal computing into new form factors, use cases, tasks, etc.

What we need to let go of is not the idea that these devices are not personal computers. What we need to let go of is an archaic and out of date definition, assumption, and stereotype of the term PC.
We are not really in the post PC era.  We are in the post notebook form factor era. We are in the post traditional definition of a PC era.    We are actually just entering the era of truly personal computing.    If Bill Gates vision of long ago was that every desk would have a computer then I offer up this: in this new era, every pocket will have a personal computer.

The Tablet is the Ultimate Mobile Personal Computer

Our firm has been doing an extensive amount of tablet analysis over the past year. The more I study the role of the tablet in the industry and in the lives of consumers the more fascinated I become with this form factor. To clarify, we believe and classify the tablet as a PC. We simply view it as a form factor within the PC landscape.

One theme of late that has some of my mind share is around tablets going where traditional PCs can not. I am not just speaking of overall market share, although that factors into my thinking, but rather I am thinking about location. Now to be clear, I am not saying PCs (clamshell notebook PCs specifically) literally can not go to the locations I will talk about. Rather, what I want to point out is that the traditional PC/Notebook PC is the wrong form factor for a growing number of use cases and market pain points.

Prior to tablets, I believe the technology industry at large looked at nearly every consumer use case, as well as every vertical market, as an opportunity for the sale of a traditional PC/Notebook PC. What this led to was the adoption of the traditional PC into scenarios, where although sufficient, was the wrong form factor for the job. If you follow much of what I write you will notice that I am fond of Clayton Christensen’s philosophy in The Innovators Dilemma that consumers “hire” products to get jobs done. Prior to tablets the market “hired” the PC to do jobs that we are now finding tablets are better suited to do.

Last week I looked at the adoption of the iPad by a growing number of enterprises for specific mobile workforces like field force and sales force automation. In many business related scenarios we are seeing the iPad step in and take the place of notebook PCs primarily because it is better suited for the specific task at hand. Enterprises are finding that for their most mobile workers the iPad is a better tool for the job than a clamshell notebook.

Late last year I wrote in my TabTimes column about how small businesses are using iPads for things like point of sale retail and even mounting an iPad for interactive product/ media placement. I even talked about some examples where restaurant owners were going digital and integrating iPads for the uses of taking orders, showing pictures of menu items to customers, and adding other relevant information for customers to make dining decisions. In both those later use cases the job could have never been solved by a traditional clamshell PC because who wants to hang that device to the wall at retail or walk around a restaurant holding a clamshell notebook? This is at its core what I mean when I say that tablets will go where PCs can not. This is what I mean when I say that the tablet is the ultimate mobile PC.

Further to this point, I highlighted yesterday in an article how the iPad makes the perfect learning companion. I have been very vocal about how touch computing removes barriers to computing presented by mouse and keyboards and therefore are better tools for learning for all ages but kids specifically. We have been using PCs in the classroom because they were the only tools available. Now there is a better tool, the iPad, and it will find itself fitting into educational environments better than the PC ever could.

The list goes on from legal firms, to financial management firms, to hospitals and doctors, pilots and airlines, public safety, and more, who are all finding that the iPad is better suited than a clamshell PC for their specific computing needs. Consumers are waking up to this reality as well.

Although, the notebook PC is portable you don’t typically see consumers move around, walk around, or stand up and use their notebook. This is because the form factor lends itself to a desk or a lap where the screen sits at arm’s length away. Tablets are very different. Consumers are comfortable using them while standing, walking, sitting on the couch, laying in bed, in the bathroom, by the pool, at the beach, in the kitchen, etc. The tablet is not designed to be viewed at arm’s length and because of that our relationship with this form factor changes. We can use it in different ways and more importantly take it places we would not or could not take our clamshell PCs.

I would argue the tablet form factor lends itself to more mobile computing use cases than a clamshell notebook. Because when consumers use a clamshell notebook they are not truly mobile–they are stationary. Whereas one can actually use a tablet and truly be mobile. I know I am tweaking slightly the classically held definition of mobile computing. However, due to the nature of tablets impact on the market I believe the traditionally held definition of mobile computing needs to be challenged.

The PC, tablet, smart phone, and perhaps something new down the line, are all tools to get jobs done. Each one has its place and each will remain relevant in some way shape or form. However, when it comes to mobility the tablet is mobile computing in its purest form.

An iOS Laptop is a Compelling Idea

Our friend Harry McCracken wrote in his CNET column yesterday about why he believes the world needs an iOS laptop. James Kendrick of ZNET shared his thoughts on Harry’s article pointing out that it is a good idea but that he doesn’t think it will happen anytime soon.

Both Harry and James have formed opinions on this matter largely because of the latest Zagg Folio case for iPad 2. As a part of our own research, we have been using this case as well for sometime and have been bringing this solution up in our conversations with industry executives.

Our opinion is that the limitations of touch computing in terms of text entry, formatting, etc are largely offset with the combination of a keyboard. That being said there are still significant challenges with this approach which need to be addressed.

Firstly, an iOS laptop, or any tablet/ laptop combo will be storage limited. Due to the nature of the tablet form factor and use cases there will simply not be hundreds of gigs of storage in these devices for some time. The case can and should be made that consumers who purchase a iOS laptop or tablet/hybrid may not be buying these devices to fully replace a notebook but for many it will suffice none-the-less. Therefore cloud services could be a requirement for devices like an iOS laptop or tablet/PC hybrid to be fully embraced.

The biggest failing I have found in using the iPad 2 with the Zagg Folio case is text formatting and document editing. Going back through and fixing words, deleting sentences or paragraph’s is still a cumbersome experience using touch only. It is not impossible, but this is one area where I prefer a mouse and pointer.

In reality an iOS laptop or tablet/PC hybrid could very well find its niche in what was formerly the Netbook category, a category that at one time was selling 30 million units a year.

Tim points out in his column today, that we could see a resurgence of the Netbook like category with new ultra-thin PC(which are not UltraBooks) that are specifically targeting the low end, basic PC user category.

We remain convinced that there is still a large opportunity in the sub $500 range for a class of computing product. It may very well be that we see a range of form factors target this market and the tablet/PC hybrid being one of the centerpieces. Tim wrote in depth about this new hybrid category in his PC Mag column titled “Make Way for Hybrids” a few weeks ago.

This could be one of the most exciting categories to watch as we see vendors experiment with the combination of touch and mouse and keyboard computing. I agree with James, in that if Apple did do something in this area it probably would not be soon, meaning this year.

Obviously, I would love to see what Apple could do in this area of a iOS/Laptop combo. However, they are also smart enough to be aware of some of the challenges that remain in order to make a device in this category that does not feel cheap, or present a sub-par user experience. For now, personally, I would accept being able to run iOS apps on my Macbook Air.

We do expect innovation in this category as well as fierce combination and hopefully creative innovation. What do you think?

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