Why the first true post-PC era device isn't the iPad. It's the Chromebook.

Why the first true post-PC era device isn't the iPad. It's the Chromebook.

Summary: You can't claim to be post-PC if you can't start using the thing without a PC (or a Mac).


Image courtesy Flickr user spareorgan.

I was planning to write about the new White House cyberpolicies (and I'll probably circle back around to them next week), but when ZDNet's gamification guy, Peter Cohen, sent me a note about how Congress-critters are using iPads, I couldn't pass it up.

Apparently, Democratic party whip Steny Hoyer has switched from using scraps of paper for tallying votes to an iPad. The party whip in America is essentially the enforcer in Congress, the person who makes sure the party falls in place.

With Republicans over the past decade or so, getting them to fall in line has been a relatively reliable and repeatable process. Getting two Democrats to agree about anything is always a challenge, so the job of the Dem whip is about as easy as herding cats -- self-indulgent, entitled, inconsistent cats whose concept of team play is agreeing to not agree. Gotta love our two parties!

In any case, Hoyer is using an iPad for whipping Democrats in line and that got me thinking about what his usage pattern must be like. In order to manage and upgrade that iPad, someone in his office has to connect it to a Mac or PC, regularly run an actual physical cable connection, and sync.

It seems to me that you can't claim to be post-PC if you can't start using the thing without a PC (or a Mac).

On the other hand, there's the new Chromebook.

This device may actually be a post-PC device. It turns on, it runs. There's no special connection to a PC or Mac, there's no installation of iTunes or any other monolithic, horrid software. You just buy a Chromebook, turn it on, log in, and go.

Of course, there are differences. The user interface and physical design of the iPad are clean and moderately clear. iTunes, on the other hand, seems more like a Google product in its ugliness, inconsistency, and cumbersome performance.

While Apple never met an interface it couldn't simplify, Google (with the notable exception of its home page) has never met an interface it couldn't make more complex. Have you ever tried organizing your profiles in Google? It's almost an impossibility.

That's why it's always seemed bizarre to me that Apple has locked its iOS devices to PCs and Macs. I also think it's the one thing that will both hold Apple back from total dominance of the next generation and is the great big, huge hole the company has left open for Google.

For here's the thing. We techies can't tell our clients (and by clients, I mean parents, friends, siblings, in-laws, neighbors, and anyone else whose computers we have to fix on a regular basis) -- we can't tell these people to "just buy an iPad".

Owning an iPad still involves having a working computer. Yes, I know you can configure an iPad on your own computer, lock down the apps that can be installed, and hand the iPad to your parents. But you're still in the loop.

A few months ago, I wrote about my force-of-nature senior citizen neighbor and how he'd managed to break through all of the PC protections I'd put in place. I'm beginning to think a Chromebook might be the answer.

Grandpa can just get a Chromebook. The only thing you'll need to tell him is how to connect to WiFi (and even that can be replaced by 3G connectivity). Beyond that, since it's just glass to the web, and no working PC or Mac is needed, the Chromebook may well be the first post-PC PC.

See also: When your security software leaves you to the wolves

See also: 5 top reasons it might be time for an iOS desktop

I've been pushing my neighbor towards an iPad, but a Chromebook will be a lot more like what he's used to, especially if it’ll handle an external mouse. And, of course, the big seller is that the iPad needs to be tethered to a PC, and the Chromebook doesn't.

It's a shame there are trade-offs here as well.

Google isn't known for its tech support, so if something goes wrong, you're still getting the call. On the other hand, if you're in a metropolitan area, you could send your client to visit an Apple Store and talk to a "genius". Sadly, if the problem is with the tethered PC or Mac, no amount of Apple genuishood will solve the problem.

Overall, I'm intrigued. The idea of a basic laptop that requires no maintenance from the "they'll fix it at Thanksgiving" army has enormous appeal. There's no doubt the Chromebook won't be as sexy as the iPad, but if it just works, that's more than sexy enough.

And that brings me full circle to the Democratic whip. Because while the iPad is easier to use while twisting arms, it still means system and device security is left to individual Congress-critters and their "I know a guy" mentality. Despite all the recent cloud disasters, it may just be safer to let Google manage congressional information than Apple and "the boy my cousin Marge knows who's good with the Halo".

See also:

Yes, I know storing everything in the cloud can cause BIG security problems. But given what I've seen my neighbor do all on his own, I'm thinking some cloud-based action might actually be safer. So, what do you think? Has Google finally ushered in the post-PC era? Have you say below.

Topics: Apple, Google, Hardware, iPad, Mobility, Security


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Huh?

    Ok, I get it. Itis easier to connect to wi-fi than physically to a PC. But, if I can't use the thing unless it is connrcted to a network I'm not sure it is usefull. And don't tell me 3G. Paying a Telco for a SECOND network connection in addition to my broadband, especially an inferior connection with draconian limits is unacceptable.

    When we hit the 22nd century and universal free connectivity is the norm, we can talk about cloud computing as the only option.

    Of course, IBM said mainframes were dead in '84 too.
    • post pc

      @hornerea 90% of things I do with my computer are on the internet. How much work can you accomplish without internet? In fact, i would say a PC without the internet is completely useless these days.
      • your job and others

        Doc writer: office, snagit, ...
        db developer/admin: sql server/oracle, ...
        ea/system engineering: troux, system architect, visio, ...
        pm: Office, MS project, ...
        programmer: ...

        One downturn, people without advanced skills may get ink slip, so, good luck.
      • RE: Why the first true post-PC era device isn't the iPad. It's the Chromebook.

        @tatiGmail - depends on the app. The internet is a tool but not a panacea. Game developers need to build and test. Graphic designers and CAD engineers won't like the decrease in speed.

        Most humans won't like it when they go over the monthly data cap and you know they will.

        And given Google's own Terms of Service, the intellectual property I create is for ME to profit on. Not them.

      • RE: Why the first true post-PC era device isn't the iPad. It's the Chromebook.


        Depends on your job I guess. I know the teachers, staff, and students I support get really upset when the internet goes down or is running slow/acting up but they still can do much of their job without it. They can email back and forth internally, work with their local files, access records in the student management system for grades. Our business and HR departments can work with their databases of employees and update and distribute payroll, and they can use all the locally installed programs on the computer or network without a hitch.

        While the internet is generally reliable it is not nearly as reliable as internal services.
      • re: Post PC

        @tatiGmail [i] In fact, i would say a PC without the internet is completely useless these days.[/i]

        Almost 40% of our PC's, and Thin Clients do not connect to the internet.
      • RE: Why the first true post-PC era device isn't the iPad. It's the Chromebook.

        you are mssing the point, both his comment and the article says nothing about work locations, the discussion is all about indiviual users, and stopping the "my son-in-law could fix that for you" problem most of us have to deal with every time the holidays come around.

        Personally, i have one and would love it if it had citrix on it.
      • RE: Why the first true post-PC era device isn't the iPad. It's the Chromebook.

        @tatiGmail I see your point but my iPad is plenty useful in between wifi connections.
      • RE: Why the first true post-PC era device isn't the iPad. It's the Chromebook.

        @tatiGmail So that means that 10% of what you do with your computer is not on the internet yet if you had a Chromebook you would be required to be connected to do that 10%. What if you had to do that 10% before a deadline and didn't have a connection for whatever reason. With the Chromebook you miss your deadline but with pretty much anything else you can still get that 10% done in time. I have nothing against the Chromebook but it certainly isn't as cut and dry as you would like to make it.
        • RE: Why the first true post-PC era device isn't the iPad. It's the Chromebook.

          @aiellenon Actually no, that was not the point of the article. The point of the article was hidden behind that disguise but that wasn't it. This was simply another chance for him to write a derogatory piece about Apple and/or iTunes. It was such an incredible jump from where it starting to the claims of what the story was supposed to be about that I found it pretty pathetic.
    • RE: Why the first true post-PC era device isn't the iPad. It's the Chromebook.

      @hornerea - I agree. This is just another distributed operations device, not the next era.
    • Do some research.

      The interface with anything iRelated is just horrible. I hate it when I plug in my iNano to recharge and all this iSoftware pops up. And it is impossible to just drag and drop into the iSoftware. My wife has a iPad, and it lacks a back button, the apps are separate from where you set parameters, and who knows what is going on in the iApp store? Oh, and IBM never said that mainframes are "dead". Do some research.
    • RE: Why the first true post-PC era device isn't the iPad. It's the Chromebook.

      @hornerea <br>It may happen much sooner than 22nd century.<br>Do the math. A company with 50,000 windows PCs replaces 90% with cloud computing "ChromeOS like" terminals. Most of their internal apps are web based, as is the trend with many companies... <br> <br>One year savings in hardware and support could be 20 or 30 million dollars. If they invested that money in fiber optics broadband, they could get desktop like speed and experience at a fraction of the PC (cost & support)...
      • Can't wait for the cancer

        Can you image working around 50,000 wifi devices...It will be like a microwave.
    • You can do some things offline...

      With a built-in file browser, media player, PDF reader, and some HTML5 apps with offline support, you can do some things offline.

      The sore thumb here seem to be productivity apps. But this will get better over time. Google's already planning an offline version of Google Docs, Google Calendar, and GMail, I believe. There are also some budding open-source projects like WebODF, which you could potentially use to work offline.
  • News?

    You write about anything today...
  • Oh the ZDNet Bloggers are &quot;Wowed&quot; by another Gadget

    Will the Chromebook hold over their short attention span until the iPad 3 comes out and then that will be the new gadget to kill all PCs?
    • RE: Why the first true post-PC era device isn't the iPad. It's the Chromebook.


      Keep dreaming, no iPad will kill the PC until the price drops dramatically AND the CPU needs 10x the power.
    • agreed

      @bobiroc <br>when one thing is for sure then it is that tech pundits and especially zdnet blogger didn't get the ipad when apple introduced it, still don't get it now one year later and will be caught totally off guard when apple will sell 100 million of the devices next year alone. someone who thinks that a notebook that is even slower than today's netbooks and is only properly working when having an internet connection is a "true post-PC" you know that this person must be totally clueless (and still thinks it can give advice to people). <br><br>it always boggles the mind coming here and reading the blogs of ed, adrian and david among others. if one thing is for sure than it's that they are really always wrong about the direction the tech market is heading. most of them probably still think that the onslaught of amazing android tablets (that somehow doesn't seem to materialize) will kill the ipad and that the playbook by rim is just awesome.
      banned from zdnet again and again
      • RE: Why the first true post-PC era device isn't the iPad. It's the Chromebook.

        @banned from zdnet again and again
        explain why you are still reading and posting here?

        Fyi the playbook is awesome and I'd buy one if it were bigger, it is the closest thing I have seen to the perfect touch based OS. My wife and I both have and love our android phones (she is completely tech illiterate), we share a zune, and I am writing this from my Notion Ink Adam runnng android. All my computers have linux on them and not a piece of iCrap can be found in my house or on my harddives.