Great Debate: Is 'post PC era' bunk or legit?

Summary:Zack Whittaker and Jason Perlow debate whether the post-PC era is reality or hype.

Zack Whittaker

Zack Whittaker

No post-PC era

or

Pro post-PC era

Jason Perlow

Jason Perlow

Best Argument: Pro post-PC era

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Post-PC era is bunk

Zack Whittaker: This just in: The PC is not dead. I'll concede that the mouse is making its way to the scrap heap---along with the USB flash drive and DVDs. However, the QWERTY-keyboard reigns as the all-mighty technology. No tablet, iPad or smartphone can take the QWERTY away from us. Touch-keyboards are terrible for writing essays or lengthy word documents, and smartphones only work if you have dainty hands. The traditional PC is not dead---it's just evolving. We see them in offices, homes, Internet cafes, and for good reason. They remain the 'base' device we use to make things happen -- whether it's CAD drawing for engineers or PhotoShop for designers.

All this "post-PC era" talk is bunk. The iPad isn't a PC, and never will be. While Jason thinks in MIPS, beeps and chips, he's delusional about the post-PC era. If we adopted his view today, we'd be blinded by shiny objects and suffer from plunging productivity. Even worse, we'd be saddled with "post-PC junk."

Post-PC era is here already

Jason Perlow: We are living in the beginning of what Steve Jobs called the "post-PC" age. But what does "post-PC" actually mean? Tablets such as the iPad, and other light computing devices, are going to replace the PC. I'd argue that the post-PC era encompasses a broad set of technologies that will eventually kill the PC as we know it today.

What do I mean? The x86 platform---30 years old this month---is toast. Speed, storage, graphics and I/O have all improved, but we're on an architecture not much different than the original 5150 PC. The PC architecture---hatched at IBM and turned into a standard by Wintel---is almost certainly in its final decade in the consumer space. We have entered a post-PC era and that means the x86 is going extinct. Personal computing won't disappear, but the PC as we know it will. The platforms delivering the post-PC era---ARM, tablets, smartphones, cloud computing---will bear no resemblance whatsoever to the PC. I guarantee it.

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks for your time/and watching

    Closing statements go up tomorrow. I render my judgment on Thursday.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Final question

    What's your timeline for this post-PC vs PC showdown? In other words, when will we know which one of you bearded ones is correct?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Not in my lifetime...

    There isn't one. There is no post-PC utopia. Laptops and netbooks may need to tether to a 3G or 4G cellular phones for outside Internet access. But faster, more reliable Internet connections are hard wired into houses and offices ??? which is where traditional PCs and desktops are most of the time. Until the mobile data networks are en par with those of wired connections, productivity cannot be left to thrive. While tablets will not be going anywhere for the time being, there is no doubt that PCs will have to be pushed pretty hard and from a great height to negate the traditional computing experience for good. Though I am a young man, I do not see it happening in my lifetime. OK, maybe Perlow's lifetime. He's much older than me.

    Zack Whittaker

    I am for No post-PC era

    We already know...

    See my second answer above... The timeline started in January 2010. Take a look at Apple's balance sheet. I rest my case.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Pro post-PC era

  • Great Debate Moderator

    So it's either/or for Intel

    If performance is everything hooray for Intel. If it isn't Intel has some problems. You're CEO of Intel today. What are the challenges you face and your big plan?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Wait, I'm CEO? Everything's fine.

    Does Intel really have that many challenges? So far, in the run of things, it looks like the processor maker is getting a pretty easy ride. Intel's greatest challenge for the time being is maintaining its dominance, or relative dominance in the tablet arena. Google announced it is to optimise Android for Intel processors at the Intel Developer Forum this morning; another win for the processor giant. Intel does have a world outside processors though. Did anyone say cloud computing? Intel is pretty much making it happen. With this, however, tablets are 'enabled' for productivity, but are more focused on browsing and personal media. The hardware says it all, really. Slower processors, increased wireless capacity, fixed file storage usually in 16GB and 32GB models; whereas PCs can be infinite in size and power. Datacenters are in effect giant PCs, at least in my little world.

    Zack Whittaker

    I am for No post-PC era

    Very challenging times

    2014-2020 is going to be very challenging for Intel. The company needs to come up with a strong competitor to ARM, POWER and the Mainframe. And if they cannot come up with an answer to any of these platforms, they have to at least become a leading manufacturer of ARM-based chips, something they haven't had to do since selling their XScale ARM assets to Marvell in 2006. And they need to finally bury the Itanium, because it's been an abyssmal failure.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Pro post-PC era

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Hmmm

    So Zack tells us performance matters and ultimately Intel wins---even though it can't crack tablets and smartphones yet. Jason has these other devices that count as post-PC. Does performance matter or is good enough technology just fine?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Performance is everything

    Performance does matter, which is why the traditional PC rules amongst its foes! Tablets only appear to be fast, because the mobile operating systems are designed for the slower technologies built-in. Post-PC devices will rely all but exclusively on smaller, more compact storage spaces, while equally needing cloud computing as the main outsourced processing power, along with fast mobile data speeds. But the data speeds are not there, and cloud computing is not for everyone -- as privacy worries and security concerns subdue the growth and business confidence. Worldwide PC growth, however, is still increasing as forecasts expecting. Granted, there is the post-PC world to contend with in a manner of ways, from tablets to smartphones. But the client device that sits on a desk and is effectively a slave to cloud services and server-run applications is still as popular as ever.

    Zack Whittaker

    I am for No post-PC era

    More than adequate can be less complicated

    Performance matters only if typical end-users actually perceive a significant degradation in performance. However, there are plenty of end-users who have powerful PCs that are complete overkill -- when they could have spent 1/2 or 1/3rd the money. With a smart device such as a tablet, a smartphone or a chromebook, not only do they provide more than adequate experience in terms of regular end-user acceptance but they are also less complicated to maintain and deploy in the enterprise. Additionally, in a number of cases, thin/smart devices might actually provide superior performance and resiliency to their PC counterparts when backed up by beefy server infrastructure, such as in large VDI implementations.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Pro post-PC era

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Quick followup: 75 words

    So are post-PC devices---tablets, smartphones et al---mostly ARM-based consumption devices?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    ARM can't compete with the big players

    At least, in my opinion. ARM processors have long been the 'favourite', in that not only do they run on very little power, but have the potential to run advanced desktop operating systems. ARM on tablets, sure. ARM on PCs? No, thank you. To put it in short, ARM processors are the saviour of the mobile world. Small and compact, and relatively cheap to manufacture, unlike most ordinary processors which require fans and cooling equipment, they consume very little power for their size and processing output. But until ARM can provide 64-bit support and mix the industry up with the best of both worlds, then one has to question how far ARM can carry on down the 32-bit route. But while ARM has greater potential in the mobile and tablet space, AMD and Intel alone are kicking enough backside to run ARM entirely out of the picture.

    Zack Whittaker

    I am for No post-PC era

    Multiple form factors

    A post-PC device is any computing device that does not have to fully rely on localized processing to provide the user experience or does not rely on the Wintel architecture in any way shape or form. This includes multiple form factors including Tablets, Smartphones, Chromebooks as well as Thin Clients, WebTops and Smart Terminals. Even devices such as the Apple TV and the Roku and the XBOX 360/Kinect that are designed for pure content consumption are "Post-PC" devices. While ARM will be the predominant platform for these types of devices, we should not rule other systems architectures such as PowerPC, which have the mature 64-bit capabilities to run advanced set-tops that already exist such as the XBOX 360 and the Sony Playstation 3.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Pro post-PC era

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Intel PR vs. Intel's demise

    Wow Zack you said that Ultrabook rap better than Otellini just did. http://www.zdnet.com/videos/events/intels-otellini-talks-up-ultrabooks/6295902 How does mobility matter in your post-PC opinion? Will all PCs just have mobility and long battery life or is that the domain for ARM devices?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Wobbly trains and tablets on knees

    It's clear that Microsoft is trying to fit the best of both worlds into one 'giant in concept' operating system, or rather small and compact in size as the case actually is. There is no doubt in my mind that this is most definitely not a bad thing. The key to a tablet? Wireless connectivity. But there just is not enough of it to go around. If you need to virtually plug your device into the wireless cellular network to get online, then you are on a post-PC device. Mobile devices have revolutionised how we work, and crucially where we work. But tablets are great for long battery life, but barely scratch the surface of what an ordinary netbook can do. And let's face it; you would rather have a keyboard to type that really important document, than something to prop up awkwardly on your knee as you wobble around on the train to work in the morning.

    Zack Whittaker

    I am for No post-PC era

    Fundamental architecture must change

    Mobility is an important part of the Post-PC scenario. It is telling that the largest growth sector for the PC market in the last 10 years has been in laptops and notebooks. For notebooks to become more efficient in terms of battery life the fundamental systems architecture of its underlying OS and microprocessor platform must change. Smartphone and Tablet usage has exploded because they provide superior battery life to a laptop computer and provide end-users constant access to their critical applications, regardless if they are in the office or Starbucks connected to Wi-Fi or on the train or in the car. While Intel will continue to make their x86 mobile processors more power efficient, they will hit the law of diminishing marginal returns in terms of being able to balance heat generation, power and CPU performance. Ultimately, they will need a new systems architecture, whether it is ARM, or something of their own design.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Pro post-PC era

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Riddle me this then

    Well at least I know where you two are coming from. Surprised those answers were a cloud free environment. Zack is captain QWERTY and at 162 words by the way. So IDC is predicting anemic PC growth and Best Buy can't shut up about tablets. How does this data resonate with your respective views?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    God bless the Ultrabook

    There is no doubt that the Ultrabook is going to change a lot of things. They may not be cheap, they may not always look like the sturdiest of devices, but they will distract us from tablets, long enough for the post-PC tablet market to shrivel away and crawl back under the rock it came from. It's clear that so many companies are trying to market tablets as the next best thing -- because they're the only 'next' thing. At the end of the day, anyone will try and sell anything if they can make a quick buck. Tablets may sell well, at least for the time being, but beyond the tablet market there is very little excitement out there. But tablets are only good at browsing the web -- and even then it's hard to get online at the best of times unless you have a gold brick in your wallet to support your wireless data addiction.

    Zack Whittaker

    I am for No post-PC era

    It's an Intel problem

    Tablets are the only thing selling at Best Buy right now. That fact signals the beginning of the end for the PC. Intel and PC vendors need to have their "Come to Jesus" moment. Right now, they are continuing to re-iterate the benefits and proven longevity of x86, and with their recently-announced Tri-Gate manufacturing techniques, that they can allow x86 to live on for another decade. The PC anemic growth problem is ultimately an Intel problem.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Pro post-PC era

  • Great Debate Moderator

    So I have a geek and a guy stuck in the present

    Very geeky Mr. Perlow (and 121 words at that). Zack not so sure the PC is hub of anything, but I digress. Let's try definition here. Define what the post-PC era looks like to you.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Talk about jumping on 'what Steve said'

    As I've argued before, we are lacking a crucial definition of what a PC is. The term "personal computer" is so very subjective, that it can be anything and all encompassing, or it can be something very specific and dedicated to one task alone -- even if that all-rounded task is "general productivity". Tablets are something new enough to distract us for a short time, until we realise we can only be productive on laptops and desktops. Tablets are part of the evolving view of what a PC is today. But 'slates', as coined by Microsoft, will enable users to run Windows 8 on a tablet-like device, as though it was a PC. iOS and iPads in comparison may have the Apple branding. But PCs are at home with Windows, and until Windows subsides and the desktop operating system dies away, there will still be a place in the market for the PC. But the key to the PC is the QWERTY-keyboard.

    Zack Whittaker

    I am for No post-PC era

    Here's a timeline....

    We will begin to see more and more reliance on smartphones and tablets versus traditional PCs in the next 18-24 months. Beyond that, we can expect Apple to move to a consolidated ARM-based systems architecture for its phones, tablets, set-tops and its Mac-based systems by 2014, with a total consolidation of iOS and Mac OS X product line by 2016. I expect that in late 2012 and early 2013, we will see dual-core and quad-core Windows 8, Android and iOS-based ARM tablets. I also expect to see ARM-based Windows 8 and Android-based laptops in the 2015 and 2016 timeframe as well, which will be manufactured by the usual suspects -- Dell, Lenovo, whoever ends up owning HP's PC business, as well as the Chinese and Taiwanese smartphone and tablet contract ODMs wishing to branch out into the ARM-based "Ultra-laptop" business.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Pro post-PC era

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Hostile and pro Zack crowd I see. Good luck Perlow.

    So in 150 words or so. Yes I'm counting. Give me three data points supporting your view of the PC world---post-PC and otherwise?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    The PC is the hub of everything.

    For a start, PCs, even in a world without HP, is still the most popular 'personal computing' device there is. Point one is that the PC is the most popular non-handheld device in the world. Frankly, the PC is the hub of all computing, and I doubt anyone can really dispute that. Point two takes into account the projected figures, suggesting that while desktop sales sales are about half that of portable PC sales worldwide, the total PC market in just four years will reach over half a billion in total. And while it may be somewhat of a lazy or simplistic view, point three is that desktops, laptops and PCs are simply more powerful than their tablet or 'post-PC' counterparts. People are opting for more powerful, cheaper and expandable machines than fixed-capacity, expensive tablets.

    Zack Whittaker

    I am for No post-PC era

    The Wintel architecture is 30 years old...

    The architecture has reached a level of diminishing marginal returns in its ability to continue to scale in both processor performance and also ability to compete as a best of class "Green" microprocessor architecture in terms of heat generation and power efficiency when compared to other architectures such as ARM and PowerPC. Increasing reliance on cloud computing, virtualization and server-based applications (Web/VDI) will further reduce the need for heavily localized processing or reduce it to a very niche market of users that require powerful content-creation workstations. The movement toward SoC's (Systems on a Chip) and very large scale integration and component consolidation will move the industry towards ARM-based and similar low-power systems architectures that will manifest themselves in multiple form factors.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Pro post-PC era

Closing Statements

"Post-PC" is just a buzzword

Zack Whittaker

Definition means everything. We're still living in a world where the PC is vital for survival. Netbooks are filling a logical void, and tablets may be the natural evolution of what the PC is becoming. But post-PC tablets will wear out soon, once the world gets bored of the latest technological fashion trend.

Forget the post-PC era, or even the newly coined post-post-PC era coming out of the Microsoft BUILD conference. It's nothing short of buzzwords to fill a marketing void we have finally succumbed to, after years of traditional, boring PCs. 
 
Tablets are only good for one thing: browsing. PCs are needed to keep the world spinning and business turning. Without the PC, including desktops, laptops and Macs -- the crucial common factor being the QWERTY-keyboard -- productivity would not exist.
 
The iPad may have changed the tablet world, but the tablet world has not changed the PC era.

The PC is dead

Jason Perlow

The traditional personal computing experience of having a mouse, a keyboard and a GUI isn't not going away. But the x86-based Wintel PC will soon be extinct.

The ARM architecture, which runs at the core of the iPad and Android tablets and every major smartphone platform, is  a target for Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8. So even from Redmond's perspective, the x86 is entering its final years as a viable personal computing platform. Microsoft says Samsung -- and other manufacturers -- are going to build RDSH clients into their monitors. In fact, Windows 8 is likely to be more popular in VDI and tablets than on PCs.

The platform delivering our personal computing experience in the next decade will bear no resemblance whatsoever to the PC we are using right now.

Personal computing is not dead. But the PC IS dead.

 

The verdict is in and my judgment goes against the crowd

Lawrence Dignan

Jason Perlow is the winner in what was a tight debate. I ranked each answer from the debaters and gave Perlow a very slight edge. Yes, the post PC era lingo boils down to marketing, but mobility ultimately changes the equation. The next generation will look at the traditional PC set-up and go "huh?" Your friendly neighborhood 4-year-old already goes to a TV, touches the screen and wonders why nothing moves. Personal computing won't go away, but the PC needs some reinvention stat. One wild card may be that tablets at some future date are called PCs.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.