Market research firm Canalys made a gutsy move today: it became the first major market tracker to start lumping consumer tablets like the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab together with other PCs.
This has major implications. First, doing so vaults Apple into third place globally in Q4 among PC vendors, behind HP and Acer, according to Canalys. By contrast, Gartner and IDC, who are better-known for tracking the PC market (and presumably thus more conservative in their methodology), do not (yet) count iPads as PCs.
Also, calling a tablet a PC means that we are acknowledging a tablet is a real computer, not a dismissing it as some limited-use mobile device.
At the risk of wading into a 'How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?' type of debate, let's examine the arguments against counting tablets as PCs in order to knock them down. Shall we begin?
1) "There's no [physical] keyboard." Yes, but as BetaNews' Joe Wilcox points out, IDC counts Windows tablets as PCs, even though a large percentage of them are stylus/finger input only.
2) "Tablets suck for doing real work like type long memos or build slide decks." I know plenty of businesspeople, especially managers, who spend the majority of their time in Outlook or Lotus Notes, sending and receiving e-mails. Are they not doing *real* work? Does that mean doing e-mail on a tablet is suddenly not real work? What about pulling up sales leads or mining deep Business Intelligence data via rich analytical dashboards? Sounds like real work to me. These are all business tasks at which tablets like the iPad already excel.
3) "Canalys is just doing the bidding of Steve Jobs and other Apple fanboys." Actually, Apple doesn't seem to be interested in lumping iPads with its MacBooks or iMacs, judging by its recent fiscal Q1 earnings call. Nowhere does COO Tim Cook refer to iPads as PCs or computers. In fact, Cook implies that Apple internally sees iPads as being different beasts than Macs: "The iPad teams are building the best iPad for the future, and the Mac teams are building the best Mac, and I can tell you that both groups believe that they can continue to grow and do great stuff, and I believe that."
4) "Neither iOS nor Android are full-fledged operating systems." By what metric? Lines of code? Android has 12 million lines of code. Windows NT 3.51 had 10.1 million. Do we retroactively declare that those servers running NT 3.51 weren't "real" computers? Or do we base this on the fact these iOS and Android run apps, not applications? Well, Mac OS X now has its own App Store. Or is it because iOS and Android run on ARM chips, not Intel? Well, then let's start thinking of a new category to put Windows in after Microsoft ports it successfully over to ARM.
5) "Tablets aren't as powerful as PCs." Actually, ARM's single-core CPUs last year were already more powerful than their Intel Atom counterparts, according to chip researcher, The Linley Group. The latest dual-core ARM Cortex A9 CPUs due to arrive in tablets this year should pull ahead of Atom even more, especially when bolstered by powerful graphics such as Nvidia. Indeed, the graphics chip in the Nvidia Tegra 2 chipset, the 8-core ULP GeForce GPU, supports 1080p video output on up to 2 simultaneous displays (1920x1080 resolution). That's far better than any laptop I've ever owned.
Perhaps we should just let Canalys' analyst Daryl Chiam, who made the call to redefine tablets as PCs, speak. "Any argument that a pad is not a PC is simply out of sync," said Chiam. "With screen sizes of seven inches or above, ample processing power, and a growing number of applications, pads offer a computing experience comparable to netbooks. They compete for the same customers and will happily coexist."
"Each new product category typically causes a significant shift in market shares," he continued. "Apple is benefiting from pads, just as Acer, Samsung and Asus previously did with netbooks. The PC industry has always evolved this way, starting when Toshiba and Compaq rode high on the original notebook wave."
Do you buy the argument that tablets should be lumped together with PCs?