iPad screen

Why Phones and Pads Cannot Replace PCs

iPad screenThe other day, I wanted to take a photo that had been sent to me attached to an email and make it a feature in a Facebook post. Now, if I had been working on a PC–Mac, Windows, or even Linux—all I would have to do is select, copy, and paste or just select it and drag.

But I was working on an iPad. You have several ways to do it that will transfer the picture. They’ll work better than they used to with earlier apps and iOS versions, but they are still unpredictable and considerably more painful than on a PC.

This difference is found in a numbers of ways, many of them much less graceful, for linking between different apps on phones or tablets. (While the particulars are different, iOS and Android offer similar issues. I’m sticking to the Apple experience because I have more experience.) That is why I spend a lot of my time on a phone or an iPad to follow events. I will generally switch to a PC when I face an option for working with text, images, or numbers. While you can do almost all of the same tricks, especially on an iPad with a keyboard, they are a lot easier on a PC.[1]

The reason is not that Mac and Windows designs are smart while tablets and phones are dumb. The fact is both approaches are very smart at what they do. The important difference are what they do and how.

The basic operating systems in use today are based on developments of the 1990s. A critical feature is the operating systems are built around a big file system. A file system app, File Explorer in Windows and the Finder on a Mac, lets you find any file stored on the system. Use Notepad or Text Editor and you can open many files that make no sense to a human. If you foolishly mess around with a critical XML file that is part of an application, it may really damage the code (most apps these days, like Word for either Windows or Mac, will stop you from loading files that make no sense). The important fact is every program can see whatever is stored on the machines and use what it needs.

The code of phones and tablets is very different. Android and iPhone have file structures, of course, but their software keeps users away from their discovery. On Android, you can add an app that gives some access to file listing; on an iOS devices you cannot do that with any third party app you can get through the App Store. As Apple says it in the File System Development Code, “The iOS file system is geared toward apps running on their own. To keep the system simple, users of iOS devices do not have direct access to the file system and apps are expected to follow this convention.” [pullquote]Android and iPhone have file structures, of course, but their software keeps users away from the discovery. On Android, you can add an app that gives some access to file listing; on an iOS devices you cannot do that with any third party app you can get through the App Store.[/pullquote]

Over time and with some improvement in phone software, ways have been added to move content among some apps. For example, a finger point in an image, or using an icon of a square with an arrow pointing up will let you move a copy of the picture to a number of specific alternative apps, including Message, Mail, Facebook, Twitter, and Flicker. But if you want to move a photo to a Word document, you will just end up with the file name inserted into your document instead of the image. If you really want the picture, you have to get it into Photos and then select it from Photos within Word. Given the complexities, if you’re lucky you’ll manage to memorize transfer rules that work for a few apps. And editing or resizing the pictures turns out to be more trouble than it is worth.

That’s why I find it hard being away from a PC for long. Say I’m writing a column for Tech.pinions on a PC. I’ll write my text in the WordPress HTML editing setup, sometimes I’ll write in another editor. If I do that, it’s easy to move what I have written, usually through a straight copy-and-paste. I’ll select an image from a variety of sources and often move to Photoshop, more likely than not just to alter the shape and size. Finding web references and adding to the piece is far easier on a PC than an iPad or phone, partly because it is easy to move the HTML address but even more because it is easy to have more than a single window open on the screen.

The point isn’t that you can’t pull it off on an iPad or a phone; it is that the project ends up being a lot more work than shifting to a PC. In some cases, the difference is even more extreme. I don’t like looking at spreadsheets on a 12” or 13” laptop, let alone a tablet or a phone. You can do a quick, simple video on a phone, but editing a video of any length and quality requires a PC.

Don’t get me wrong, I love both a smartphone and an iPhone (I haven’t been convinced that other tablets really are desirable tools). I find I use a PC a lot less than I used to. But there remains a lot of tasks best done on a PC. It is why, though the PCs share of the market has declined, it’s not going away.

[1] I am not including the Microsoft Surface and other Windows tablet-like systems. They can be tablet-like hardware, but the software is Windows and, for good or bad, they function like PCs.

 

Published by

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

92 thoughts on “Why Phones and Pads Cannot Replace PCs”

  1. This article is laboring under a false premise. PCs are not going to disappear TODAY but they are shrinking in relevance every day. Pads and phones are already the majority of people’s primary and in many cases only computing device. PCs are already in decline and have little role to play in the ‘next billion’ or the billions after that.

    The file system issue (when it arises) has increasing numbers of solutions including cloud and file type repositories (the save to photos “trick” is uber obvious) but more importantly the majority of jobs are pretty single threaded, especially in the enterprise e.g. Sales (CRM/Analytics), healthcare (patient records, drug/device inventory), Banking (Lending/investments), Retail (POS/merchandising). All are app driven with little to no need to ever see a file system. Better app solutions, faster hardware and more skilled users will all continue to decimate the PC to a niche tool for a specific minority of jobs/use cases. Roaming tech blogger isn’t a great example 😉
    You can rage against the tide but it is still coming in..

    1. Gosh, how long have you guys been saying this? PCs are simply moving towards a use that they’re suited for. I, for one, own an iPad, a Surface, and a laptop. The iPad and Surface just sit there collecting dust because they suck as content creation platforms, despite the very few exceptions.

      Heck, even for content consumption, a very lightweight laptop that stands on its own is better than a tablet any day for me. It can run Popcorn Time and its better CPU means I can do multiple things at once if I like.

      1. We’ve been saying this for a couple of years (tablets have only been around for 5, modern smartphones for 7) and PCs seem to have hit their peak in this time (total install base is not growing, mobile is already double PC installed base). When you rely on personal anecdote, you’ve already lost the argument. I still use my PC plenty but I can see the writing on the wall.

        Almost everyone on these boards owns one of everything, but we tech nerds are not a good indication of where markets are headed. I certainly use my iPad more minutes than my PC now (since content creation is not a majority of most people’s computing time). See, anyone can play the anecdote game.

        PS Great example of preferring a PC for a basically illegal activity (torrent streaming).

        1. and PCs seem to have hit their peak in this time

          So? That’s no indication that we don’t use them. There’s just no point in upgrading hardware that often anymore. Same happened with tablets these days. Are tablets dying too?

          We’ve been saying this for a couple of years (tablets have only been around for 5, modern smartphones for 7)

          Your math needs updating, that’s not a couple of years.

          1. The PC replacement discussions have only really picked up as the evidence has been supporting it… (declining PC sales, replacement-only data, etc.) basically the last 2-3 years. My math is fine.

            You are positing your personal strawman again – it’s not that we don’t use them, it’s that we are relentlessly and irrevocably replacing them. Again – and try to get it this time – PCs are being replaced where the current mobile technology works better, PCs are not replacing anything and not fulfilling new use cases, while mobile is. This PCs are declining in relevance, from being our only computing devices towards being largely for mid-heavyweight content creation. Lightweight content creation (email, messaging, FB posts, etc.) is already well-done on mobile.
            I know content creation is really important but that is a very minority use case for the world’s computing. Wikipedia is 1.5-3% creators vs. 97%+ consumers, extreme example but you get the picture. In the developing world, people run their businesses on a smartphone.

            You can’t fight the tide no matter how many strawmen you put in front of it.

          2. You are positing your personal strawman again

            Do you even know what a strawman is?

            it’s not that we don’t use them, it’s that we are relentlessly and irrevocably replacing them.

            If you’re replacing them, you’re not using them. Your argument is nonsensical.

            Wikipedia is 1.5-3% creators vs. 97%+ consumers, extreme example but you get the picture.

            This is the heart of the argument, isn’t? You think that because consumers out-number creators, consumers are more relevant. I say creators are more relevant than ever because of that.

            We’re not talking about which is used more, were talking about relevance, try and understand they are not the same. I know very well mobile is huge. But that doesn’t make PCs less relevant, it actually makes them more relevant because they create the content your smartphone uses.

            In the developing world, people run their businesses on a smartphone.

            That’s because that’s all they can afford. Things like M-Pesa only exist because of lack of available services for everyone.

          3. “I can’t even begin to say how bad it is to do your accounting on your smartphone vs in Excel.”

            Why use Excel at all? Something like Xero is a better solution for most businesses, and can be used on a variety of devices. This is a good example of a mobile solution that is better than the traditional PC solution.

          4. There’s a reason xero is aimed at small businesses. Not impressed.

            FYI there’s an app for everything these days. Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

          5. Okay, you obviously don’t know anything about Xero. You’re just dismissing it because it doesn’t support your narrative. Xero is just one example. There are many more. SalesForce is another great example. Keep in mind that small businesses are indeed most businesses.

            I also think you may not know how bad Excel actually is. We do some web-based database work, often building specific apps around improved workflows for clients moving away from Excel and Access.

          6. I also think you may not know how bad Excel actually is.

            Honestly, you must live in a particularly strong reality distortion field.

            Wake up, the world isn’t working the way you think it does. You lost all credibility when you say stuff like that.

            Excel is THE tool to beat, not just in accounting but any department working with tabular data. There’s a reason why businesses used it for years and I’m not even gonna try and defend it.

            Okay, you obviously don’t know anything about Xero

            Of course not, nobody does! They had 70 million NZD in total revenue last year, a drop in the ocean. I’m all for start-ups disrupting industries, but let’s wait until they actually do that before getting excited, Ok?

            And the problem with these type of start-ups, that take a hard problem and throw a nice GUI around it, then sell you basically a pretty interface… Is that they cost a lot more for what they do. They don’t solve the problem, they just make you think they solved it and make you feel good.

            You rarely need to just “glace at invoices on your iPhone” or “generate yet another standard report” . Sometimes you need to find highly custom datasets relevant at that particular moment in time and send it ASAP. Xero doesn’t do that. Excel does.

            But don’t worry, I’m sure Xero exports to Excel, right? 🙂

            We do some web-based database work

            Sounds like something a 15 yo titles his project for school work.

          7. I used Xero as an example because I know a Comp Sci PhD that uses it and thinks it is very good. I’ll take his opinion over yours, thanks. But I also mentioned SalesForce. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how small and meaningless SalesForce is. Of course there are many, many, many more examples of complex applications that live online or are distributed between devices and the cloud.

            Excel has its place, certainly, but it also has an incredibly high user error rate. Abstracting those functions within a web-based application is often a much better solution. By the way, I’ve been doing high end complex web application/database work since 1995. It would be interesting to know how old you were in 1995 🙂

          8. I used Xero as an example because I know a Comp Sci PhD that uses it and thinks it is very good. I’ll take his opinion over yours, thanks.

            I never said it’s not good. I said it’s more of a complement to Excel than a competitor. And that it’s nothing special, invoice apps have existed ever since we could build them and there’s a time and place for them.

            But I also mentioned SalesForce. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how small and meaningless SalesForce is. Of course there are many, many, many more examples of complex applications that live online or are distributed between devices and the cloud.

            You mean like Office 365? Office web apps? SalesForce is, again, not directly competing with Excel. I don’t know what’s your point.

            By the way, I’ve been doing high end complex web application/database work since 1995.

            The thing about web technologies is that it moves quickly. I’m sure your extensive knowledge of Netscape and table layouts is useful to some businesses, but you’d have a hard time competing with someone who doesn’t have your baggage of obsolete technologies. Have you seen the average age in tech companies? You’re actually at a disadvantage because you have to prove that you took the time to keep up to date vs someone who never built a non-responsive web-app.

          9. Netscape and table layouts? You’re cute. We build relational databases and complex applications as well as responsive layouts. You seem to think it’s hard to keep up with new developments and tech. It isn’t. When you do quality work that’s just normal.

            We do things Excel simply cannot do. Excel is usually not the best solution, it is prone to user error, it has very little data integrity, it doesn’t scale well, collaboration is poor, queries are limited, I could go on. In my opinion it is bad software. It’s okay for limited use, and it has the advantage of being quick, easy, and cheap. But past a certain level of complexity it should not be used. Excel is not the tool to beat, it is simply the tool that is cheap and available.

            I’ll try to get this back on track.

            You said “I can’t even begin to say how bad it is to do your accounting on your smartphone vs in Excel.”

            This is false. A smartphone accessing a good web app can do a better job of accounting than Excel, by far.

          10. You seem to think it’s hard to keep up with new developments and tech.

            No, my point is you have to keep up when others started directly with modern approaches. Your 20 years in Web dev doesn’t mean as much as you think, I don’t know of why you thought it’s an advantage.

            In my opinion it is bad software.

            We all have opinions. Some just want to be different for the sake of being different.

            A smartphone accessing a good web app can do a better job of accounting than Excel, by far.

            Disagree. Abstracting functions inevitably leads to losing fine-tuning. Highly customised data such as “get me a balanced budget for the next 3 weeks from mixed projects with different targets and current progress” is much easier produced by Excel. That’s useful information, not a pretty chart (which Excel still does).

            Web apps are almost always companion apps. That’s why all these accounting Web apps you mention support excel import/export. They work together.

          11. “Abstracting functions inevitably leads to losing fine-tuning. Highly customised data such as “get me a balanced budget for the next 3 weeks from mixed projects with different targets and current progress” is much easier produced by Excel.”

            Okay, clearly you don’t understand what a relational database is. Everything you just said works better in a relational database.

            “Your 20 years in Web dev doesn’t mean as much as you think, I don’t know of why you thought it’s an advantage.”

            Yes, yes, a couple decades of experience in a given field is obviously no advantage at all. Why have I been wasting my time learning and creating? Silly me.

          12. Okay, clearly you don’t understand what a relational database is. Everything you just said works better in a relational database

            Fail to see the connection. And I know how to normalise a relational database with my eyes closed. It’s taught in high school even. They were invented like half a century ago.

            If you’re still interested in keeping up with trends, you should know people are moving away from relational databases.

          13. Funny, if all you need is a high school degree I wonder why the programmers I work with wasted all that time and money getting Masters and PhDs in Computer Science? I guess for the same reason I wasted 20 years getting that useless thing called ‘experience’. What a waste of time that was.

            What you mean when you say “people are moving away from relational databases” is actually that new models are being used to store, manipulate, relate, and query data. But it is still all about data relating to other data. This is the benefit of experience, you understand that many trendy new things aren’t really that new.

          14. Funny, if all you need is a high school degree I wonder why the programmers I work with wasted all that time and money getting Masters and PhDs in Computer Science?

            Oh please, if anything, the tech world is the least one concerned about your degree. People get hired out of high school all the time (or midway through college).

            It seems to me you’re using your degree as a way to boost your ego more than anything else. I’ve met Phd students who never worked a day in their life, they just wanted to stay students for longer. So no, I’m not impressed by Phd students, I’m impressed by what you can build.

            What you mean when you say “people are moving away from relational databases” is actually that new models are being used to store, manipulate, relate, and query data.

            That sentence makes no sense. Of course it’s a new way to handle data, a way that’s not relation databases. Duh.

            But it is still all about data relating to other data.

            Relational database has a very strict definition, it’s not just “data related to data”.

          15. Heh, we’re talking past each other. You have no idea of the level of work I’m talking about, that much is obvious. A Masters degree is the minimum requirement.

          16. I agree, you’ve got a bad case of it, as you demonstrate regularly in your comments.

          17. You have no idea of the level of work I’m talking about, that much is obvious. A Masters degree is the minimum requirement.

            Yeah, I’m the one who demands Masters as a minimum qualification to work with me…. good luck to you mate

          18. Heh, only one of us belittled both Masters and PhD degrees *and* 20 years of work experience. You’re a case study in the Dunning–Kruger effect.

          19. You’re talking about yourself yet I’m the subject? Wtf?! Delusional at best

          20. Here’s your original comment before you went back to edit it: “You’re talking about yourself yet I’m the subject? Wtf?! Delusional at best”

            So you’ve called me delusional and told me to get educated, and you somehow think that isn’t a textbook case of illusory superiority. This isn’t new for you either, this is typical of your exchanges with many other people. You regularly deride people’s intelligence and skill. As I said, you’re a case study. I grant you the last word. I’ve wasted enough time on this.

          21. Good for you.

            My original comment was referring to your obsession with degrees and official achievements. It still stands.

            If I’m a case study, I hope I find out what exactly for.

            You regularly deride people’s intelligence and skill.

            Not believing you for your word that you’re smart is not about doubt. It’s just being realistic that lots of dumb people think they’re smart. Statistically, you’re not smart.

          22. It’s incumbent on professionals to support their “lettered” credentials, not the other way around.

          23. I never said otherwise. I know the complexity of the work I’m involved in. There is a minimum foundation of education and experience necessary to do the work. I have plenty of experience working with people who learned over time without a formal education, there’s an obvious lack of depth, it shows in the details. I’m open to anyone who can do the work, but the folks who put in the time to gain a formal education are most often doing much better work.

          24. Good. We don’t disagree, with the possible exception that having the requirement rules out qualified individuals. Yes, as a target level of expertise. I remind you that Gates, Silverberg, and Jobs don’t even have a BS.

          25. Of course, exceptions are obvious. In those cases the experience, the quality of the work speaks for itself. But I’ll remind you that Will was belittling *both* experience and education, going as far as saying “lots of dumb people think they’re smart. Statistically, you’re not smart.”

            So, statistically speaking, folks with Masters or PhDs or a couple decades doing quality work in a given field are dumb? Does that sound the least bit reasonable to you?

          26. Both views of Excel are true:
            – in some cases, it’s an irreplaceable tool because it does everything plus the kitchen sink.
            – in *most* cases though, it’s either the wrong tool for the job (I’ve seen it used for database stuff way too often, or for stuff for which a dedicated apps would be much better suited) or grossly overkill (99% of home use and 80% or corp use… If you’re not doing crosstabs, macros, OLE or very fancy formatting/graphing, there are much easier spreadsheets)

          27. That’s an excellent point. While ideally people would use the right tool for the job, a lot of times people adapt the tools they already know to do it.

            Which is why I’m a huge fan for software as a service and I’m glad Excel moved to that model too. It makes it easier to “switch” to a proper tool later on.

            Although I believe this wasn’t really about the misuse of Excel, but wether or not it’s good when it should be used.

        2. Torrent streaming isn’t illegal, actually. 🙂

          And good for you on using your iPad a lot. Do you have a job?

          1. Funnily enough I have a job… your torrent streaming (probably of largely copyright infringing content – illegal) suggests you might not.

            See how personal anecdotes are worthless to make strong arguments?

          2. I didn’t mean mean it as an insult, stop being so aggressive. I was just wondering if you have a job that requires you to use a computer, since virtually all of those use PCs, though a few use a tablet too, like salespeople while outside the office, for instance. I suspect small few even get by using just their phones. Since you don’t use PCs much, I suspect are one of these latter groups.

            I really don’t see how you think I’m relying on a personal anecdote for my argument. I stated my opinion, then I followed up, stating my own usage. I never implied everyone else is like me, as you’ve tried to read into it.

          3. Aggression is in the eye of the beholder…

            Your (reasonable) position was that PCs are retreating to fewer use cases. I totally agree. However your anecdote really suggested that mobile has little to no use (collecting dust) since you seem to only do content creation? Most people do vastly more consuming that creating so mobile is certainly not gathering dust in most households.

            My job is to define IT strategy at major corporations… an office job… and I use my PC a lot in that. Even there, I have moved to more mobile use. I check and reply to email on mobile, I do my expense reports and approve others’ on mobile. I access CRM via mobile (better UX). These were all PC use cases until recently.
            My personal use has almost entirely moved off PCs except for content creation. My clients are intensively mobilizing everything that makes sense to mobilize (a lot). It is inevitably replacing PCs while PCs are replacing nothing. That is my point. I think we agree.

          4. My wife, who works in healthcare is experiencing what you are stating. For the last couple years there has and still a big push moving healthcare to mobile. The examine rooms which used to have a PC are now without one. The doctors or MA have phones or tablets.

            She heads one of the many mobile initiatives, and the question isn’t ‘should we’, it’s ‘how soon’.

            As for PC replacement. It’s slowed down and most are not being replaced or upgraded. However, if someone needs a mobile device, it’s almost a ‘take two’.

          5. I check and reply to email on mobile, I do my expense reports and approve others’ on mobile. I access CRM via mobile (better UX). These were all PC use cases until recently

            So you do everything except work on your phone.

            Seriously though, why don’t you just give back your laptop then? Put up or shut up.

    2. This article is laboring under a false premise. PCs are not going to disappear TODAY but they are shrinking in relevance every day.

      Luckily for you, relevance is nothing that can be measured.

      Pads and phones are already the majority of people’s primary and in many cases only computing device

      The majority of people have jobs with a PC. That’s not gonna change soon.

      PCs are already in decline and have little role to play in the ‘next billion’ or the billions after that.

      The death of the PC has been greatly exaggerated.

      All are app driven with little to no need to ever see a file system.

      Right… The banks and hospitals must not have gotten your memo.

      1. To paraphrase Monty Python, , the automatic gainsaying of the other person does not make an argument.

        Of course relevance can be measured – in oh so many ways – usage times, optimal use cases, total spend as a % of tech spend (or any other denominator), PC units as a % of total computing units, etc.

        The majority of people DO NOT have jobs with PCs (see World with 7.5Bn people, see total PC’s 1.2Bn – try to have a more global perspective).

        The death of the PC has NOT been exaggerated… see anyone can apply your argumentative capability.

        I work with large Banks and Hospitals who are not upgrading their PC hardware and spending a lot of their development $s on mobilizing their applications so that their workers can be more productive and are not tied to an old PC.

        Thanks for playing.

        1. The majority of people DO NOT have jobs with PCs

          Let me clear this a bit since you are unable to understand beyond the most basic literal interpretation of sentences. People who use a PC for work still use a PC for work since the launch of the smartphone.

          I work with large Banks and Hospitals who are not upgrading their PC hardware and spending a lot of their development $s on mobilizing their applications so that their workers can be more productive and are not tied to an old PC

          Right… a bank is rewriting its infrastructure to run on an iPad… you have no idea what the word legacy means or why its important, right? And you have no idea that bank is just a bit more than just customer service, right?

          I have yet to see a bank or hospital or workplace that works from iPads exclusively and you fail to show me a single one.

          1. “People who use a PC for work still use a PC for work since the launch of the smartphone.”

            The situation for many of those people is the “PC” is no longer the only computer being utilized. And for many it is no longer even the central computer being utilized. The computing landscape is changing. Not sure why you take that so personal. Do you make your living selling PCs or needing people to be tied to PCs?

            Joe

          2. The situation for many of those people is the “PC” is no longer the only computer being utilized. And for many it is no longer even the central computer being utilized.

            So? The fact that people use computing to consume various content on all sorts of devices just emphasises how important PCs are these days. Because content is produced on them. I say the more consumers are, the more important PCs are!

            The computing landscape is changing. Not sure why you take that so personal.

            It is changing, I embrace it because I do have a smartphone and a tablet and I use my smartphone most. What I am against is saying that because I use my smartphone so much, my PC is less relevant. Far from it.

            Considering his premise is “PCs are not going to disappear TODAY but they are shrinking in relevance every day.” You seem to be arguing against a point he didn’t make.

            I’m arguing against these statements: “The death of the PC has NOT been exaggerated… ” “I work with large Banks and Hospitals who are not upgrading their PC hardware and spending a lot of their development $s on mobilizing their applications ”

            TLDR Just because we have more than one type of computers, does not make PCs less relevant.

          3. I think we are slightly arguing at cross purposes here. I am saying that PCs are declining in importance (and numbers) and this is a continuing trend. I did not say that they are dead and we have no use for them any more. If you took that inference, I apologize. We are not in the stone age any more but we have plenty of uses for stone.

            Tablets are an early market (5 years old) and there is much debate as to where these are going. However, the dominant evidence currently suggests that they are still growing their consumer installed base (still many new users vs. replacement only) and there is a long way for them to grow in enterprises. PCs are already in a declining, replacement only mode.

            People given PCs use PCs – congratulations. But now a minority but an ever increasing number are being given mobile devices to do the same jobs. People in sales, in jobs where they are on their feet – (medical, engineering, maintenance, retail, etc.) PCs are being replaced. Again, its a trend and it will continue to supplant PC use cases. Most jobs are not in offices, even tho most visitors here appear to be.

            Legacy… not sure you understand what is actually going on in large enterprises… they are EXACTLY renewing their infrastructure precisely because of mobile. Mainframes and their apps are being service enabled for web access, data architectures are being reengineered from batch to real-time, and mobile apps or new front ends are being delivered to many internal enterprise apps specifically to enable mobile access (as well as better desktop client access). Again… not all PCs will be replaced but some are already and this trend will continue.

            PCs are dying back. They won’t disappear (i never said they would) but they are being replaced in more and more use cases. Let’s face it, no-one is reporting on use cases where a mobile device is being replaced by a PC.

          4. PCs are already in a declining, replacement only mode.

            PC sales are declining, the install base is still growing. Much much slower than mobile, sure, but not declining.

            People in sales, in jobs where they are on their feet – (medical, engineering, maintenance, retail, etc.) PCs are being replaced

            I’m sorry but I find this hard to believe. Engineers without PCs? Really? And retail? When did retail even use PCs?

            Legacy… not sure you understand what is actually going on in large enterprises… they are EXACTLY renewing their infrastructure precisely because of mobile.

            Not mobile but the web innovated software communication and architecture. There’s a difference.

            Let’s face it, no-one is reporting on use cases where a mobile device is being replaced by a PC.

            How convenient for you. You don’t even have an anecdotal evidence?

  2. I’m struggling with your example: in Android, open the picture, and either save it and go to your Facebook app to write up your post and load up the picture, or straight up “send” the pic to Facebook, then go there and edit a post around it. It’s actually a bit smoother than on an PC ?

    Also

    “On Android, you can add an app that gives some access to file listing”. I’ve yet to come across a single Android device that doesn’t have that pre-installed.

    “The basic operating systems in use today are based on developments of the 1990s”. We’re standing in the shoulders of giants, anything in use today is based on developments from the 90s, 80s, 70s, 60s… and that’s just IT. The fact that iOS garden-walls its users (no filesystem access at all), Android not as much (old-school access to user directories for pics, music, movies, downloads, and whatever else you add in the “user-writable” directory; and WIndows (they ave phones and tablets too) mostly not at all (users can still FUBAR their system by deleting system and applications directories).

    As for multiple Windows.. get an Android tablet, the good ones have those. And all the Windows ones.

    I think you’re mostly realizing how limited and limiting iOS is, and conflating “iPad” and “all tablets”. Also, you carefully skirted the mouse issue, but mice are damn nice for any serious work. Supported by all your friendly Android and Windows tablets.

    1. In fact, doing what the author says is in fact pretty easy on iOS too. You simply long-tap on the image that you want to sent to Facebook and then you will be presented with the sharing sheet. You can post the photo directly to Facebook from there.

      You can also save the photo into the photos app, which in many ways serves as the filesystem for image related task with the additional benefit of being able to edit it.

      I’m wondering whether this article was just poorly researched. At least the introductory example should have been better tested.

      1. I have to agree. My kids do this kind of thing with ease on their iPads, and a lot more. Just as one example, they make movies that combine hundreds of different files of many different types. You can manage files on an iPad, it’s just done in a different way.

        1. But have they tried it on a PC? With the right software, you can do it both better and easier on a PC. Most things can be done on iOS or Android if you put up with it, but it is often a poor choice.

          1. My 12 year old prefers the iPad for film editing. We subscribe to both Adobe and Autodesk for the full suite and mobile apps. The reason for my son to prefer the iPad, he states he can edit much faster. He finds the mouse as an input device slow and cumbersome. My wife, who edits all types of media never uses a mouse as a input device, she prefers a pen/tablet for speed and accuracy.

            For myself, doing all types of architectural activities, I personally use everything. It all depends how much detail I need to have access to and speed. As for programming, I only use a laptop or iMac if I am using a full IDE. However, if I only need a text editor, I’ll grab the tablet. I’m use to the glass typing, and I actually prefer it to the keyboard because I hate the motion of pressing.

          2. “With the right software, you can do it both better and easier on a PC. Most things can be done on iOS or Android if you put up with it, but it is often a poor choice.”

            Let me rewind that argument to 2007: “You can type on a touchscreen phone, but a physical keyboard provides a better and easier experience. While an Iphone provides the same functionality as a blackberry, the lack of a physical keyboard makes it often a poorer choice.”

            It’s all a matter of what one is used to, and what your expectations are going in. For people brought up on PCs, the limitations of a tablet are a constant pain point. For people who don’t have a lot of prior experience with doing things the PC way, they’re just how things are. Hence the perpetual war of words between tech bloggers who deem an Ipad to be too limiting for their computing needs, and tech bloggers who proudly proclaim that they are able to use their ipad for 90% or 100% of their computing needs.

            I can’t switch to a tablet for everything because I have too many gigabytes of data to fit on an ipad, and because I am an old dog and enjoy my physical keyboard. I don’t pretend to think that the lack of a file system, multiwindowing, and/or multitasking on IOS is the reason why I cannot and will not give up my mac.

          3. Yes, they also work on our iMacs and MacBooks. Hard as it may be to believe, they *prefer* their iPads. Just because something doesn’t work well *for you* doesn’t mean it doesn’t work well for others. I certainly can’t match what my kids do on their iPads, they are like touch wizards. They don’t have the problems you imagine.

          4. Looking back at the article, you talk a lot about the file system. On iOS and for photos, the Photos.app IS the filesystem, or more accurately, the image repository. If your image manipulation needs are within the capabilities of the Photos.app, then its very simple to do. If your needs exceed these, you can use extensions or access the image repository from a different app.

            I think the key is to stop thinking of the Photos.app as an independent application, and instead think of it as your file system for images.

          5. Steve,

            Isn’t this part of security and sand boxing precautions?

            It’s bad enough if you get a virus that spams your adress book on your computer.

            What if you got a virus on your phone that spammed all your address book with text messages or started sending expensive international txt?

            Safety precautions built in a consumer OS?

        2. I believe the devices we are experiencing is not for us, but for the future generations. We’re just existing in the time of rapid change and most of us cannot handle it.

        3. Yes. My kids aren’t old enough to do this yet but I can easily imagine.

          I think what’s making stuff hard for old-time PC users to understand is that the Photos.app IS the filesystem, at least for images. Any piece of software that needs to use images can access the photos in Photos.app. There’s really no difference.

          1. Yes, you can manage files, it’s just done differently. If an app is able to work with a file, you can get that file, it isn’t hard.

            The ‘old guard’ really seems to have a huge bias, almost a chip on their collective shoulder, about tablets (and smartphones) being capable computers. In another comment klahanas just said flat out that tablets and smartphones are not PCs. Talk about being in denial.

          2. Yes, talk about denial…

            “Personal” in PC means it does what “I” want it to do. Not what “most people” want it to do, and certainly not what my manufacturer “allows” me to do out of policy. Technical difficulties are a separate matter.

    2. The good Android tablets that have multiple windows have them only on a small number of apps. It isn’t built into the OS for all apps to benefit from.

  3. I generally agree with your observations, especially since these are use case scenarios. These use cases were clearly your intent. The title of your post is much more interesting to me than just the use case scenarios. Phones and Pads cannot replace PC’s because:

    a) You need a PC to program phones and Pads.
    b) Logically, there is an inverse relationship between the breadth of function of a device (including expandability) and the extent of innovation it can permit. This from a functional POV, not OEM Policy POV.
    c) Then there are the IT matters. I’m not quite old enough to remember needing “permission to print”, I just missed it. Not needing “permission to print” made PC’s more personal over the mainframes they replaced. There are numerous examples of similar problems.

    This is not to say that PC’s haven’t been oversold and gross overkill for most consumers. Often they are like selling sledge hammers to consumers trying to push thumb tacks. Not a good thing as it’s not as easy, and you might put a hole in the wall. With “freedom” comes “responsibility”, but until tabs and phones can give us that kind of latitude (thus becoming PC’s), they will not, and cannot, replace the role of the PC.

    1. “Often PCs are like selling sledge hammers to consumers trying to push thumb tacks.”

      Or to say it another way, it’s like using a truck to haul a light bulb…

      1. This. Too many tech geeks online approach the issue with their personal use case as the the only acceptable metric. Had a baffling argument at work with one a couple years ago. He simply refused to believe that not everyone needs to run a Python interpreter on their phone. True story.

        1. True. But a PC is able to run a Python interpreter if it’s owner chooses to run a Python interpreter. Same with any other programming language. On (some) Pads and Phones this is not a hardware issue, it’s an implementation policy on “what’s allowed”.

          There has been the argument that Pads and Phones are PCs. This is a glowing example of why they aren’t.

      2. On the flip side, suggesting someone buy something that can only do the most basic functions isn’t super smart, either. People’s uses change, and may one day decide to fire up a game.

    2. You don’t need a computer anymore to start a phone or a tap. It can all be done through the clouds.

  4. Every month or two there is a new cycle of discussion sparked by some analyst or other on the topic that Macs and OS X (a.k.a. Mac OS X) will soon go away and there will be a new integrated device running a derivative of iOS. A super-iPad with keyboard and touchpad, probably.

    The file-system argument crisply exposes the fallacy of these speculations. As some have commented, the use cases for tablets continues to grow and that for PCs shrinks. But both will survive. It pains me just to think about being forced to do serious software development on just an iPad.

    1. There are certainly arguments for both types of devices.

      The filesystem isn’t one though: iOS does have a file system, it’s just hidden. Un-hiding is just a flip of a switch, and wouldn’t change much: Android supports both modes: either you open the app then the file, or you use a file explorer to navigate to the file and click it to open it with the default app you set for its type (Android deals in type, ie text, picture, music, video, not .extensions like Windows), or use the hamburger menu to open it with a non-default app. I think filesystem innovation died with WinFS, it’s all window dressing these days.

      As for coding.. not all tablets are born equal: some support mice, most support external displays, a docking station or a USB hub, some have powerful CPUs and large-ish storage… I’m sure most coders didn’t dream of coding on an Osborne 1. Give it time…

      1. You are right in that there is a file system. It’s Unix, after all. The difference is in how a user interacts with it. In PC-space, it’s with Finder (or Windows Explorer, etc). But with iOS it’s through each individual app. Of course, there could be a file explorer created for iOS (I believe there are some for jailbroken devices).

        But – as they say on TV – “but wait, there’s more !” It’s true there’s a file system but the contents are organized differently in one crucial way (at least one). And that is that files are stored with the owning app’s directory. There’s no “home” folder and iOS apps don’t look for one. Their files are in their own directory – in /Applications. That’s done for reasons of security – apps are in their own folders and no app has any permission to access files in another app’s folder. And it explains why files are deleted if you delete an app.

        1. Dang, mixing content and apps feels like a major step back, I actually strive to put them on different partitions on my PC…
          I’m sure symlinks to public data dirs could be retrofited though, if there were a will…

  5. “The software in the Microsoft Surface is Windows.”

    If Microsoft ever brought out a garbage disposer it would run Windows.

    1. A tiny version of Windows 10 will already run on your garbage disposal, if you like. 😉

  6. I think there’s a bit of a false dichotomy between phones/tablets and PC’s. A phone can easily function the same way as a laptop with the right input tools and software paradigms. Some of the Windows 10 phones are supposed to allow you to use them like a traditional computer when hooked to a monitor, mouse and keyboard. I wouldn’t be surprised if you found those much more productive.

    I’ll agree that the software and interface is lacking. A touchscreen is great for certain use cases, but it will never match the pixel perfect accuracy of a mouse, or the speed of a keyboard for text entry. An app ecosystem is perfect for consuming content, but if you create you need more robust file management. All of those things are possible on phones, just not within the iOS/Android paradigm.

    It’s not phones and tablets that can’t match PCs for productivity tasks. Phones and tablets aren’t really that different hardware wise anymore. It’s the software that’s playing catch-up.

    1. Have you seen the new ‘nub’ on the Windows 10 phone/tablet on-screen keyboard? You touch it, then drag in a direction and the text cursor moves that way. It should make placing the cursor in text at a specific spot way easier.

  7. For the most part I agree with this, but with Windows 10, universal apps DO scale this way properly, and you can even do side-by-side apps on a tablet, more the larger the screen. And starting with W10 there’s a standard protocol for copy-paste and even dragging things between running apps. In fact, there’s only one allowed way to do these operations so none of the confusion.

  8. The other day, I wanted to take a photo that had been sent to me attached to an email and make it a feature in a Facebook post. Now, if I had been working on a PC–Mac, Windows, or even Linux—all I would have to do is select, copy, and paste or just select it and drag.

    Or you know… Android. Just saying. Your entire concept is flawed.

  9. Thinking back on it, I strongly object to: “I am not including the Microsoft Surface and other Windows tablet-like systems. They can be tablet-like hardware, but the software is Windows and, for good or bad, they function like PCs”. That’s untrue, Metro is a tablet UI, and Desktop supports Touch too. Your stance is similar to “I’ll review cameras, but not those with interchangeable lens because I don’t like changing lenses”. Well, first you don’t have to, second some love to. Might as well limit your investigations to tablets whose name starts with “i” and ends with “Pad”.

    The whole point is that Windows tablets do both, but you can evaluate them only as touch beasts, either in Metro, Desktop, or both. I’m doing that right now with a $100 Chinese gizmo, wondering If I should recommend those instead of Android tablets. The hardware is much better than I expected; Metro is very quirky and lacks apps but could work for some; Desktop in touch mode is suprisingly usable. And then indeed there’s the “full laptop” option, which is mightily convenient.

  10. Apparently you aren’t old enough to remember when people wrote silly articles explaining why PC’s would never be able to do x, y and z.

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