What exactly is a 'post-PC device' anyway?

What exactly is a 'post-PC device' anyway?

Summary: In a few weeks people will be able to buy Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets. Perhaps it's time to step back and look again at just what "post-PC" means...

TOPICS: Tablets

It used to be that you could go several weeks on Twitter without someone saying that because Windows 8 will run on tablets suddenly the downward trend in PC sales would be reversed. With the proper launch of Windows 8 happening in just a few weeks, it's difficult to go ten minutes without getting mired in the same discussion.

Technologists, and I include myself in this, sometimes struggle to think outside of what they themselves use and need in a separate way to what a "normal" human being needs. As a result, most technologists tend to think of tablets as a "PC Plus" - i.e. a tablet that because it runs Windows you can do more with.


That position is basically wrong. An iPad sells because you can do less with it, not more. Remember the adage "less is more" - if I were in charge of Apple's marketing (and thank goodness I'm not, because I'm rubbish at marketing) that would be what I went with.

Windows 8 will come in two flavours. Windows 8 is the "full" Windows operating system. (It's dangerous to use the words "full" or "proper" when describing Windows 8, but there's few other ways of doing it.) This is the variant of the OS that's least likely to challenge the iPad market because it's a PC operating system and not a post-PC operating system. Windows RT is much more iPad-like, and is the one that - given the correct alignment of planets, the proper number of magic spells incanted, and decent availability of unicorn tears - could actually go toe-to-toe with the iPad. Nothing about Windows 8 will reverse the natural, organic trend in the reduction of PC sales. Windows RT isn't a PC, and therefore has a shot.

No intimidation

My ZDNet colleague James Kendrick nails the post-PC proposition in his piece "The lure of the tablet: no intimidation". In it he talks about how tablets are designed from the ground-up with a reductive simplicity that stops people from being freaked out by them. As they're engineered from the start to be locked down and secure, they also don't need anti-virus software and they don't expose themselves to malware vectors as easily as PCs. Nothing bad is going to happen to you using an iPad, unless you specifically choose it to.

The full Windows 8 is no different to Windows 7 in terms of intimidation. You can blast through the tablet-optimised Start menu and designed-for-safety "Windows Store" apps and into the normal desktop and do everything you did before. You can also click on links in your browser and get owned by drive-by downloads. Well, maybe you won't, but your family members might and they have your phone number, so that's your weekend blown fixing that then.

Windows RT is different in that it it's locked down. The legacy apps that you can run are very limited - it's essentially just the upcoming version of Office that you can run on it. Everything else is a Windows Store app. These follow the iPad's app deployment model. The software vendor themselves are registered and vetted, code is checked for safety once by the vendor and again by Microsoft, the app is vetted by Microsoft, and released. Code runs in a secure sandbox and, on top of all that, the API used to build Windows Store apps is restricted and limited to keep trust way, way up on the agenda.

No keyboard!

This is the recurring conversation I have with people that depresses me most.

Back to this idea of the iPad being a "less is more" model of computing, the lack of a proper keyboard on the iPad is entirely intentional.

Post-PC devices are about your relationships and what's important to you in your personal life. They're not about work. Keyboards, however, are about work. The argument you hear is that keyboards are required to do "proper work". Yet the iPad has sold 34 million units since introduction, netting $19 billion in revenue despite the fact - and it might just be me - I have never, ever seen anyone using an iPad with a keyboard in the wild but have seen many, many people using iPads.

It's not possible to unbind both sides of this argument - hence why it keeps happening. I get that people use keyboards - oh look, I'm using a keyboard actually right now at this moment - but the iPad's ridiculous popularity tells us something different. Specifically it tells us this: by building a device without a keyboard, you can essentially destroy the PC market.

Yet bar a tiny number of exceptions, every Windows 8 or Windows RT tablet announced so far is being marketed with the message "You must have a keyboard!"

A less controversial way to look at the keyboard problem is this: they make the unit heavier. That's the polar opposite of what you want from a tablet. They'll also use power and drain the battery fast - also something you don't want. The new iPad weighs 662 grams. Try building a usable keyboard that doesn't double that weight. You can't. You can also try and build one that costs $0. Again, good luck. Expect a bump in price comparing iPad to Windows RT tablets because of consumers being told that they need to have a keyboard with it.

(That said, an iPad without a case is impracticable, yet Apple manages cleverly to stop people thinking how they're going to have to drop $50 on a decent case for the thing.)

People don't use tablets at their desk, they use them in every situation bar the one where there are at their desk. Lying back in bed holding an iPad in midair with one hand and jabbing with another finger is tricky enough with a device that weight 662 grams - try doing that with one that weighs 1.5kg and won't fold flat.

In short - keyboards make me cross. With a keyboard, a tablet can only be used at a desk. Take the keyboard off and you have the elegant, superior portability exemplified by the iPad. Silly thing is, Windows 8 is designed to be completely functional without a keyboard - it's just the packaging by Microsoft and the OEMs that's skewing the discussion.

Always connected

This one doesn't get much airplay, but to me a tablet should have an on-board cellular modem. Perhaps this is the company I keep - my mobile phone provider doesn't support tethering so if I can't find a Wi-Fi connection for my tablet I need to find some other way to get those delicious packets of IP down to my device. An onboard cellular modem streamlines things beautifully. I feel a bit wobbly that Surface doesn't have an onboard cellular modem, this being the first Windows RT device I plan to buy. (And no, I have no plans to buy a Windows 8 tablet, just a Windows RT one.)

But at least here there's some consistency - all of the providers talk about these devices having a need to be continuously connected.


For me then, "post-PC" means a lightweight device that's used for one's relationships and personal life, not for work. It doesn't have a keyboard precisely because of that. They're cheap - think $400 not $800. They have "zero intimidation", full-trust baked in and consistency across the entire OS and experience. And they're always connected.

Devices that tick those boxes will sell and Windows RT fits that perfectly - it now remains to be seen over the next few months whether the marketing message, pricing, and quality app availability manages to attract consumers away from the iPad.

Just don't expect Windows 8 tablet PCs to start eating into iPad sales. That, my friends, is not going to happen.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Photo credit: Liam Westley

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Topic: Tablets

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  • Flawed logic

    Your argument that Post PC basically means Apple only is based on very flawed logic.

    The keyboard + extra battery + tiltable display stand is an optional accessory on Windows 8 and the Asus Transformer Android tablets. Even if you buy the base, you don't have to carry it with you. You get the best of both worlds and even iPad users understand this when they buy a case with a built-in keyboard.

    Moreover, most people do sit down to use their iPads and they do prop it up somewhere because it's too heavy to hold for any prolonged period of time. Even lying on your back in bed is tiresome to the shoulders and arms if you try to hold a tablet.
    • The other flaw

      is believing that Windows RT is somehow not Windows. In fact WinRT, the Windows Runtime Library, will support diferent processors and while it may have some restrictions due to more secure sandboxing and different UI requirements, it's essentially the successor to Win 32 API and should support moving any application on the older Windows platforms to WinRT.

      Just like Windows went to some lengths to support older DOS apps, Win32 apps will be around for a while, but WinRT is the new OS. It may look like it has some similarities to the iOS and the limited iPad, but it's only on the surface ;-)
      • One fatal flaw of "Post-PC" devices: price

        While the device itself is affordable in the 150-500$ range, their data plan quickly eats bites your wallet off. One year of such data plan could buy you two affordable PCs.

        Sub-standard UX (b/c of the small screen) + High expense = Limited potential. I see the post-PC hype running outta steam in the coming 2-3 years b/c of the flaw.
        • eats bites -to- bites

          Where's that edit option when you need it?
          • The other other flaw

            The flaw in his argument is that people still need PCs. I haven't met an iPad user who doesn't, at some point, need to hop on to a PC to get something done. I'm not talking about work. I'm talking about all those non-paid bloggers, facebook power users, . And there are some things that strapping a keyboard on an ipad won't fix.
          • RE: Bloggers and Facebook power users are working

            At marketing their personal brand. But IPAD is is still a a device used for personal computing and is thus a PC. Tragedy that Apple all by themselves managed to change the correct definition for most influencers
        • What's the point?

          It comes with Wi-Fi, so it doesn't HAVE to be expensive. Moreover, your same argument applies to those alternate options too... iPad and Android tablets aren't magically exempt from data charges.
          • I was referring the mobile devices in general

            So yeah, iOS and Android are in the same mix.
          • Haven't looked at the contracts?

            It doesn't matter if you use WiFi for 99.9% of the usage they STILL gouge the heck out of your wallet, and now many won't even allow you to have a smartphone to make calls without a data plan, even if you only intend to use WiFi.

            Never underestimate corporate greed and its ability to kill the golden goose friend, they'll just keep right on raising the prices until only the foolish and wealthy will bother.
            PC builder
      • Well...

        WinRT, whether on Windows 8 RT, Windows Phone 8, or Windows proper, is Windows. But only because "Windows" is Microsoft's brand name for any OS they create. It's Windows by definition, but only by definition. Otherwise, it's a completely different OS built on top of the same kernel.

        WinRT + Metro could well be argued to be a post-PC OS, tough again, you have to define "post-PC" in some selective way. This OS is not suitable to desktop computer use. One app at a time. No windows. That's not innovation for a desktop user with millions of pixels of screen real-estate. But it's well suited to screens in the 3.5" - 10" screen, which is clearly the current focus of the post-PC movement.

        While not strictly part of post-PC, WinRT is also following Apple's lead on device lock-down. You're running Internet Explorer if you want a full internet experience... WinRT doesn't permit a full modern browser to be written (IE and other Microsoft applications will still use parts of Win32, even on ARM devices, to get around these limitations). Of course, every single thing is digitally signed, you'll have high security, but applications only as approved by and sold by Microsoft. No exceptions.

        This is absolutely Apple's answer to the iPad/iPhone, and it's a complete about-face from their desktop tradition.
      • Not Over Yet

        It may be that WinRT's multi-platform targeting will win out, then again, maybe not. I don't think Moore's Law should be abandoned just yet. If Intel comes through with a Core-like SoC in the 2 or 3 W range, then a tablet could handily run full Win8 and perhaps a Ubuntu-like Linux, rather than Android. Add in the Light Peak (optical Thunderbolt) interface, and such a device could be the first true desktop replacement, while maintaining its portable usefulness. We have not really had such a device yet, but it is coming. I applaud ARM for the usefulness of their low power designs, but it remains to be seen if they can scale up to Core-like performance levels while maintaining the low power profile. I think ARM's ability to scale up performance will determine whether or not WinRT comes out on top.
    • Microsoft's PC PLUS

      apple's POST-PC its a JOKE
      • Windows user (and Mac, and iPad too)

        My home laptop wouldn't wake from sleep this morning. Ho-hum... it's a Windows (quite well known for being a pain in the rear). I had to reboot it. It's been running superb for quite some time but because it's a Windows device, we're all quite accustomed to the odd thing happening far too often.

        My work computer is an Apple desktop. it too is occasionally a pain (not near as frequently as the Windows). That too is to be expected... it's a computer running a full-blown operating system. Computer's in general don't always do what they're supposed to... that's what keeps repairmen and IT people in business somewhat.

        My fun device is an iPad. It almost always does what it's supposed to. It might not do near as much as my Windows or Mac computers but it's fun to use and it is far more dependable!! Getting back to this morning... since my Windows wouldn't wake from sleep and had to be rebooted, I picked-up my iPad and finished the small task which I had hoped to use the Windows laptop for. I was completely finished and had the iPad away in the drawer before the dang laptop ever reached the desktop!!!

        Some people can defend the ancient full-fledged computers all they want. In a sense, I'm kind of a 'post-PC' kind of guy... and I'll probably never go back.
    • IPad's heavy

      Come on. Who are we folling. I tested both the Samsung Galaxy (sorry not 4 sale in US) and the IPad and Samsung beats the IPad hollow in every aspect.
      Talking of weight: heft the Ipad round and you'll know what I mean. And it generates quite a bit of heat: always makes me worried.
      Sorry I'd go for an Android driven phone and live in a free world rather than be cooped up in a walled garden.
      • iPad is no heavier than other pads of similar size.

        @raymond.doctor - No one is being fooled. Firstly, this has nothing really to do with the Android tablets. I believe that it is mainly about Windows RT, with references to the iPad world. Secondly the iPad 2 barely gets hot at all even after an hour of hard 3D gaming, not owning the "new iPad" I am not sure how hot it gets. But if temperature does upset you, I guess you wont be using any PC anytime soon, as these make the iPad look sub zero by contrast, so I guess you'll be very super worried about that one. Take the latest i7 processor, I believe that it uses 135Watts and pumps out mucho heat...

        As for Samsung verses Apple debate, this is highly subjective and personal and so your opinion is noted as just that, an opinion.

        I carry the iPad around all day with a keyboard and incase wrapped Apple bluetooth keyboard, no problem, but then it is lighter than my Canon EOS 1Ds3.

        As for that old cherry about an open argument with regards to Google, this has more dust on it and is getting boring to discuss. Move on, there is nothing to see here.
      • Ouch! My hurting arms!

        Oh stop! You guys know how heavy those few ounces seem. And that terrible heat... it's enough to give you a third-degree burn! And heck... just who wants a device that works the way it's supposed to. We live in a free world and we can own all the non-walled, barely working devices we want!
    • Not heavy

      I've read volumes of ebooks on my ipad "3" - in bed. I hold it or put it on a pillow in tilted fashion - So NO its not heavy. I would have agreed to you because I had one of the original iPads and that one was too heavy.

      Secondly... When I'm on the move I dunk keyboards and accessories - they are cumbersome to travel with. When I'm at an office or desk I use the same kind of keyboard I'm typing on now for my MacBook - Bluetooth - sold by Apple and works like a charm for extra screenspace.

      There are ways to get around problems - all we need is flexibility and options.
      • Small difference

        The original WiFi iPad was 680g. The new WiFi iPad is 650g. So you're troubling over 30g... a hair over an ounce difference.

        The iPad 2 was only 601g. Most of the complaints about the iPad 3 are about the increase in weight, I suspect, not any absolute issue about the weight.

        On the other hand, my ASUS Transformer Infinity is only 598g, lighter than any iPad. But more importantly, it's 128g less than my previous Android tablet, with a better display (1920x1200) and longer battery life. Users are always going to judge these things versus their previous experiences as much as anything else.
    • iPad

      I don't think he was making the point that it's Apple-only. Just that in his opinion, post-PC means a non-work, consumer oriented device. Similar to a phone, but with a bigger screen.

      I do agree that the iPad is too heavy. I didn't get one exactly for that reason. And actually it's too big too; maybe good for ladies who are carrying a handbag anyway, but for me if it doesn't fit in a pocket then it's not going.
      Han CNX
  • Flawed logic

    Your argument that Post PC basically means Apple only is based on very flawed logic.

    The keyboard + extra battery + tiltable display stand is an optional accessory on Windows 8 and the Asus Transformer Android tablets. Even if you buy the base, you don't have to carry it with you. You get the best of both worlds and even iPad users understand this when they buy a case with a built-in keyboard.

    Moreover, most people do sit down to use their iPads and they do prop it up somewhere because it's too heavy to hold for any prolonged period of time. Even lying on your back in bed is tiresome to the shoulders and arms if you try to hold a tablet.