The Smartphone Is Not Merging With the PC

on July 19, 2014

Behold the pot, bathtub and swimming pool. They all contain water. They are the same. ~ Horace Dediu (@asymco)

On July 9, 2014, Walt Mossberg published an article entitled: “How the PC Is Merging With the Smartphone.”

(I)n the past month, it has become clear that a serious effort has begun to merge the smartphone and the PC. ~ Walt Mossberg

To “merge” means:

    merge |mərj| verb “combine or cause to combine to form a single entity”

[pullquote]Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words. ~ Mark Twain[/pullquote]

I respectfully, but vehemently, disagree with Mr. Mossberg’s observation that the smartphone and the PC are merging. Not only aren’t they merging but they — and their underlying design philosophies — are diverging.

Starting Far Apart

Apple, Google and Microsoft are three of the largest players in personal computing. However, their design philosophies start from very different places.

Apple, Google, and Microsoft each offer all three things: devices, services, and platforms. But each has a different starting point. With Apple it’s the device. With Microsoft it’s the platform. With Google it’s the services. ~ John Gruber

Apple, Google and Microsoft not only start from different places, they are also headed in three very different directions.

Moving Further Apart

Google wants you signed into Google services on all your devices, from phones to tablets to PCs. ~ John Gruber

Google may well be offering one experience at the services layer, but that is not the same as merging the smartphone and the PC and it is not at all the same as what Apple and Microsoft are doing.

Microsoft wants you to run Windows on all your devices, from phones to tablets to PCs. ~ John Gruber

Microsoft may well WANT to run a single Windows operating system on all of your devices, but so far their efforts to create one operating system that runs on phones, tablets, and desktops has actually caused Windows to splinter into three operating systems: one for the phone (Windows Phone 8); one for the tablet (Metro) and one for the desktop (Windows 8). Calling them all by one name does not make them all one thing.

[pullquote]There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all. ~ Peter Drucker[/pullquote]

Further, while Microsoft may well be attempting to merge the tablet and the PC at the hardware layer 1) that is not the same as merging the smartphone and the PC; 2) the paltry sales numbers for their 2-in-1 devices weigh against, not for, the proposition that merging is the way of the future; and 3) Microsoft’s efforts are not at all the same as what Apple and Google are doing.

Apple wants you to buy iPhones, iPads, and Macs. ~ John Gruber

Apple is not merging anywhere — not at the services layer, not at the operating system layer, and most especially not at the hardware layer.

(Apple chief of design, Jony) Ive demands that the hardware be true to itself—its purpose, its materials, the way it looks, and the way it feels. ~ John Siracusa

Not only aren’t iPhones and Macs merging, but Apple’s continuity features allow Apple to draw bright lines between their phone, their tablet and and their desktop offerings.

Apple’s vision is about harnessing the uniqueness of each device rather than converging them ~ Ben Bajarin (@BenBajarin)

Further, what Apple is doing is not at all the same as what Google and Microsoft are doing.

Whatever This Is, It’s Not Merging

  1. A gardener uses a trowel when he gardens and a shovel when he digs. He doesn’t think, “Hey, the trowel and the shovel are merging because they both dig holes!”
  2. A homeowner uses a watering can to water the flowers in her home and a hose to water the flowers on her porch. She doesn’t think, “Hey, the watering can and the hose are merging because they both water flowers!”
  3. A restaurant employee washes the floor with water from a bucket and washes dishes with water in a sink. He doesn’t think, “Hey, the bucket and the sink are merging because they both do washing!”

Semantics

The beginning of wisdom is a definition of terms. ~ Socrates

Is this just a question of semantics? Well, even if it was, semantics matters. Semantics is: “The branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning.”

A definition is the enclosing a wilderness of idea within a wall of words. ~ Samuel Butler

However, this isn’t just semantics. This is a distinction with a difference.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. ~ Mark Twain

Nothing Is Merging

[pullquote]You cannot step into the same river twice. ~ Heraclitus[/pullquote]

Apple is improving the workflow between its devices. Workflow is, by definition, a flow. Saying that workflow is “merging” is like saying that a river is a lake. The improved workflow between Apple’s devices allows those devices to be true to themselves and to grow ever more distinct, one from the other. At Apple, the smartphone and the PC are not merging.

Google is improving its services. It wants you to think of phones, tablets and PCs as portals used to peer into the Cloud — the Google Cloud that is — where all your content and apps, reside. Google may not care which portal you use, but they have no interest in merging those portals. At Google, the smartphone and the PC are not merging.

[pullquote]Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. ~ Aldous Huxley[/pullquote]

Microsoft is improving nothing. They are forcing the merger of the tablet and the PC because their Windows’ business model demands it. They have not learned — or more likely, they refuse to acknowledge — that the mouse driven user input suitable for the desktop is unsuitable for, and incompatible with, the touch driven user input of the tablet. At Microsoft, the smartphone and the PC are not merging.

AxeBlade
Caption: Leaked image of the Microsoft Windows 8.1 Pro Surface Axe/Razor 2-in-1 Hybrid Shaving Combo Device.

Diverging

Microsoft’s muddled personal computing design is going nowhere, but the design philosophies of Google and Apple are unique and they are rapidly diverging, rather than merging.

Normally, in mature markets, products grow closer and closer to one another as each competitor borrows the best ideas of the other and incorporates them into their own product or service. That has happened with Mac and Windows over the past thirty years and with iOS, Android and Windows Phone over the past seven years. However, Apple and Google are now rapidly moving in opposite directions.

Apple is pushing all of the value down into their devices. Google is pushing all the value up into their services. This is going to have dramatic, long-term, consequences.

Google will almost certainly excel wherever machine learning matters most: maps, voice translation, predictive services and who knows what else.

Apple will almost certainly excel at any task that requires rich applications and with any entity or institution (education, business, government) that inhabits the “long tail” of app creation (i.e., specialized or proprietary apps) and demands robust security and privacy.

Suggesting that the smartphone is merging with the PC obscures this reality. It implies that the overall approaches of Apple, Google and Microsoft are drawing closer together when, in fact, they are not.

Henry Ford said:

The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.

I get the feeling that both Google AND Apple fit into this category of business. Each feels that they know best and each is moving on without much regard for the what the other is doing. Focusing on merging is a distraction. What we need to be focusing on is what is emerging from these two great titans of tech.

Woof

A dog goes into a newspaper to place an advertisement.

“What do you want your ad to say?” asks the newspaper clerk.

“Woof Woof Woof. Woof Woof Woof. Woof Woof Woof,” says the dog.

The newspaper clerk adds up the words and says, “Okay, that’s nine words. We charge the same for up to ten words. You could add another ‘woof’ for no extra money.”

The dog says, “But that wouldn’t make any sense.”

Walt Mossberg is not just a good tech writer, he’s one of the very best there is. However, on this one occasion, I believe he added one “woof” too many.