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Tech

What exactly does 'post PC' mean anyway?

And are Windows tablets' too fat to fly'?The Asus Eee Slate is never going to be the iPad; four hours of battery life, a Core i5 and real Windows apps are a different ballgame - not necessarily better or worse, but certainly different.
Written by Simon Bisson, Contributor and  Mary Branscombe, Contributor

And are Windows tablets' too fat to fly'?

The Asus Eee Slate is never going to be the iPad; four hours of battery life, a Core i5 and real Windows apps are a different ballgame - not necessarily better or worse, but certainly different. Over on our US sister site, Mary-Jo Foley ponders the PC/not PC marketing campaign that Microsoft is putting behind the Asus Slate and the line that Microsoft is trying to walk by pushing both the PC and the slate features of the device.

As it's been on the Microsoft site since the Asus announcement in January, it's not a response to Jobs's pithy 'post PC' claims for iPad 2 but it's a perfect reflection of the view of Windows slates. If you're an iPad fan, you see a PC trying to squeeze into the skimpy clothes of a tablet and point at the unsightly bulges where the Windows interface doesn't fit without tailoring (on the unit I saw at CeBIT, Asus was the first PC maker to be smart enough to increase the DPI and tweak the interface settings to make the window close button big enough to tap easily with a finger - even with the high resolution touch screen on the far-from iPad-priced EliteBook 2740p I'm using takes a tap or three to hit the red X).

But if you're a PC fan, you see a PC with those sexy tablet extras and you think that 'more than' is better than 'less than'. You think handwriting is really useful for taking notes at trade shows and in conversations and you appreciate being able to draw on screen in ArtRage without worrying that your hand is going to brush the screen next to the stylus or your finger. You think finger touch works really nicely in Media Center for cueing up music and videos. You'll carry more weight because you need to do more; it might be less weight than the touch-less notebook you already lug around, especially when you pull off the keyboard. And you care less about having an app store than about having your Windows apps on a device that you can use as a PC - and as a tablet.

'Post PC' is a meaningless marketing phrase. Consumption centric (ArtRage and Garage Band feel rather cherry-picked as content creation tools - how about video editing or DTP?); touch-only interface; apps with mainly single functionality that don't integrate with each other much - those kind of phrases don't sound as pithy but they have a meaning that sets the iPad clearly apart from traditional PC apps and interactions (and right in the slot I label 'giant smartphones for people who care more about the smart and less about the phone'). They tell you what the iPad is good at is - not what the PCs that dominate the computer market are bad at.

The Asus is a tablet because it has both finger and pen touch; it's a PC because it runs Windows and PC apps. The question is how many people want that combination on a cool device.

We've had the first for years, the second has been MIA or DOA in previous Microsoft tablets because getting PC makers to do cool things that aren't either hugely expensive or fundamentally compromised to avoid being hugely expensive (Toshiba Portégé R400, I'm looking at you, with your sleek good looks, your light weight, your woefully slow hard drive and your abysmal two hours of battery life). The slates we get this year can't match the iPad for weight and battery life; they mostly have larger screens and they all have far more powerful processors and it's just physics - they need big, heavy batteries to power those. But they're the sleekest, most tablet-like slates since the much-mourned Compaq TC1000; the Asus is good looking and powerful too. It's not post-PC; it's unashamedly PC and more.

There are plenty of people who don't want to be post PC, because they need more than you can do on a tablet (but you get tablet users to feel good about their bold stride into the future if you call PC users dinosaurs and luddites).

And I'm not sure that there's that much post-PC about tablets anyway. Most users are connecting iPads to iTunes on a computer of some kind, even if it's only one in the Apple Store to get it activated, and until home servers take off, where are people putting the music and photos and videos that don't fit permanently on the tablet? In the long term it might be the cloud, but do you want the only home for your wedding photos and £1,000 music collection to be online right now? When I try out an Android tablet, I fill it up with photos and music I already have as well as with ebooks from Amazon - the same way I do with a smartphone. Until we have robust, cheap, high bandwidth connections everywhere, I want local storage and powerful local processing. And while a tablet is great for reading documents and Web pages (and emails I don't have to reply to) I'd rather write a document or remote into a server I have to fix from a PC that has a mouse and keyboard and 12" screen than a tablet that only has a touch screen. I'd like to have Core i5 performance so I can run Photoshop or Paint.NET. And when I want to sketch a diagram or jot down my shopping list, I'd like to rip off the keyboard and have it be a tablet too.

For years I've felt like the only person asking for all this. At one point, Windows CE was supposed to be enough for me (remember Web pads?). Now iPad is supposed to be enough; instead of assuming the position to use a notebook (find a table and sit down and type), it's assume the position to use a tablet (find a recliner chair and stretch your legs out and swipe). Microsoft's marketing for the Asus Eee tablet is aimed at those of us who want our 'post PC' device to be a PC as well (and the line I notice it straddling awkwardly is the one about the compromises that still involves). Even with the most generous iPad sales predictions, the vast majority of users still live in a PC world; we want full fat milk rather than gourmet frozen yoghurt, steak rather than finger food, the whole loaf rather than the cheese biscuit. But given that we often have more than one PC, we might well like to have the tablet canapes as well - and that's the menu Microsoft is trying to sell.

Mary Branscombe

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