No, tablets aren't going to replace PCs in the office - but here's something that might

It will be an uphill battle for tablets - even from Apple - to replace PCs, and another technology may get there first.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Can anything every completely replace the PC?

Image: iStock

Apple thinks its new iPad Pro would make a great replacement for the 600 million or so ageing PCs out there. That's a pretty ambitious target and one that it's unlikely to hit, especially when it comes to business PCs.

There are some good reasons for that -- as Larry Dignan points out elsewhere on ZDNet, workers really like using a mouse -- something that iOS currently doesn't support. And as Adrian Kingsley-Hughes notes, corporate IT departments tend to be pretty conservative and deeply in love with Windows: Apple might think that its new iPad Pro is "the ultimate PC replacement" but it may find it hard to persuade CIOs.

There was a time, maybe four or five years ago, when it genuinely looked as if tablets were going to replace PCs everywhere. They were sleeker, cooler, and cheaper than dull PCs, which hadn't changed for years, typified by the beige box on your desk and that heavy slab of laptop in your bag. It looked as if the tablet would sweep all of this away and lead us all to an elegant, touchscreen utopia.

It took a while but the PC has fought back, and was surprisingly effective. As such, the challenge to the enterprise PC from tablets has now largely subsided (the consumer story is very different, of course).

Largely the PC makers have done this by rethinking designs and absorbing and neutralising what made tablets attractive in the first place. Detachable keyboards on hybrid PCs now mean that instead of choosing a tablet or a laptop, you can have both.

So does that mean the PC will last forever, swallowing up every new form factor that comes along?

Hardly. But the defeat of tablets does perhaps is clarify a few things: that content creation is much more of a priority for workers (like me typing this) than someone slumped on a sofa watching videos. Which means that right now workers (and just as importantly, the applications they use) need keyboard and a mouse and a fixed screen, and aren't so bothered about touch.

So what does the next evolution of the desktop look like, if it's not a tablet?

Perhaps the answer is already in your pocket. If you've got a new smartphone then its performance won't lag much behind the five year old PCs that Apple wants to replace. It's likely that in a few years a smartphone will pack enough processing power that it can do most of the work the average user will need to do, at least most of the time. Connecting one up to those extra bits of hardware workers like; the keyboard, mouse and big screen could be a really intriguing way of replacing the PC.

Microsoft's Continuum is one example of how this might start filtering through to the mainstream (other companies have talked about similar ideas) although it's early days. Of course data or processor intensive jobs will be done on more powerful devices as is always the case.

Certainly it will be a few years, another five perhaps (if at all) before such technology starts to take hold. But just because tablets haven't defeated the PC, that doesn't mean the PC will be around forever.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

Previously on the Monday Morning Opener:

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