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Thursday, February 7, 2013

A PC by Any Other Name?

Posted by on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 9:38 AM

Market research firm Canalys kicked off a bit of a high tech shit storm when it bucked convention by counting tablets as PCs. While most analysts have the PC industry shrinking, Canalys has it growing, thanks to gangbuster tablet sales from the likes of Apple, Samsung, Amazon and other tablet makers.

But are tablets PCs? Critics of Canalys argue that if you're going to count tablets as PCs, why not large screened smartphones? Or all smartphones for that matter? After all, the iPad and the iPhone share processors and operating systems. Where's the dividing line?

On the other hand, if tablets aren't PCs, what does that make the Microsoft Surface? Is a touchscreen device with a keyboard really all that different from an ultrabook with a touchscreen?

Personally, I'd go with screen size as the dividing line, as that's what really determines the usefulness of a device for light PC work. Add a keyboard or keyboard case to any tablet and it's as useful for the bulk of traditional PC tasks as any netbook. And netbooks were always counted as PCs.

But maybe I'm an idiot. What do you think?

 

Comments (31) RSS

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1
Is it yours? Does it compute? Then it's a PC. Any other definition turns all of the PCs that were used as little as five years ago into something other than a PC. And that makes no sense.
Posted by johnjjeeves on February 7, 2013 at 9:46 AM · Report this
CBSeattle 2
1. I'd have to agree with your penultimate sentence.
2. Is this what passes for news or a topic of interest at The Stranger these days?
3. Assuming for some strange reason that the answer to #2 is "yes" then are you the person to cover it?
4. If "yes" to #3 then maybe you could give us a context in which we should give a shit? i.e. will this have any impact on anything I could possibly care about even a little bit?
Posted by CBSeattle http://www.yousaidit.com on February 7, 2013 at 9:47 AM · Report this
3
Analysts ought to maintain the distinction between operating systems and/or chipsets. The reason people don't want tablets counted with PCs is that they are trying to determine if Windows and Intel are doing well or not. Whereas Qualcomm and others do more of the chips in smartphones and tablets, etc. As these companies break out of their niches though I would expect a lot more blurring would be more appropriate.
Posted by day trading idiot on February 7, 2013 at 9:49 AM · Report this
4
@2 if a particular post doesn't interest you, isn't it simpler to just find something else to read?
Posted by shabadoo on February 7, 2013 at 9:57 AM · Report this
Zebes 5
A PC is anything that isn't a Mac.

This lamp? Definitely a PC. This apple, though? Not a PC.
Posted by Zebes http://www.badrap.org/rescue/index.html on February 7, 2013 at 9:59 AM · Report this
Goldy 6
@2 1. Oooh. You burned me!
2. We cover a broad range of topics on Slog, including tech.
3. I spent the bulk of my first 20 years of my career in the tech industry, so I'm actually more qualified to write about tech than I am to write about politics.
4. I dunno, considering that Microsoft is such a crucial part of our local economy and it is dependent on the PC industry for the bulk of its revenue, we might perhaps be interested in the health of the PC industry considering MS only shipped 720,000 Surface tablets in the 4th quarter.

But you say I'm an idiot, so what do I know?
Posted by Goldy on February 7, 2013 at 10:08 AM · Report this
CBSeattle 7
@4 That's a fair point.
The Stranger plays an odd role in Seattle journalism which can confuse expectations. On the one hand they are a serious local news organization that can inform and sway public opinion. On the other hand they are an "alt" paper that covers topics that might not be part of anything we traditionally think of as "news" (of course that is increasingly true of all media). And of course in everything they do they are typically irreverent and ultra liberal.

I'm good with all of the above. Mudede's philosophical wanderings may be of interest to some and annoying to others, but he knows what he is talking about.

I guess I felt the need to comment because I appreciate The Stranger and I don't like to see it's value reduced. Any topic is fair game but don't you think the person writing it has a minimal responsibility to:

1. Know the topic
2. Tell us why it should matter to us?

That said, sniping from the sidelines is easy and rarely constructive so perhaps you are right.
Posted by CBSeattle http://www.yousaidit.com on February 7, 2013 at 10:09 AM · Report this
CBSeattle 8
@6 (Goldy)

Thanks for the response and apologies for the harshness, but your expertise isn't showing up in this post. I agree we are a high tech city and it's a relevant topic. I agree that slog covers pretty much everything. What is missing from your post is:

Why should I care how some research firm counts PCs? what is the impact on the industry (or anyone for that matter)? Will Microsoft benefit from this way of counting PCs or be hurt by it? Will anyone be affected?

I also have a background in technology and I really can't see why it matters? But maybe it does and it would help if your post gave even a minor hint as to why. Isn't that journalism 101 whether you are blogging or not?
Posted by CBSeattle http://www.yousaidit.com on February 7, 2013 at 10:17 AM · Report this
Granny Smith 9
A PC can run multiple applications at the same time. A tablet or smartphone only runs one. A tablet is a personal computing device but not a personal computer.
Posted by Granny Smith on February 7, 2013 at 10:17 AM · Report this
10
I always thought we should change the definition to Primary Computer
Posted by But then there wouldn't exactly be markets for them. on February 7, 2013 at 10:23 AM · Report this
11
@9 that is not really true. Smartphones can and do run multiple applications simultaneously.
Posted by Actionsquid on February 7, 2013 at 10:23 AM · Report this
Goldy 12
@8 I put up a Slog poll—not a jokey Slog poll—because I was curious what other people thought. And I think having a proper perception of the industry is important for a region whose economy is so dependent on it.
Posted by Goldy on February 7, 2013 at 10:24 AM · Report this
Goldy 13
@9 That is an arbitrary distinction. PCs did not always multitask. And my iPhone certainly multitasks better than my early Apple DOS, CP/M, MS DOS and Mac computers did.
Posted by Goldy on February 7, 2013 at 10:27 AM · Report this
CBSeattle 14
@12 Fair enough. I wish I knew how that perception would have any impact on the industry but I guess my expectations for a quick slog post were a bit high. Thanks for chatting about it.
Posted by CBSeattle http://www.yousaidit.com on February 7, 2013 at 10:27 AM · Report this
watchout5 15
"But are tablets PCs?"

I'm currently using my smartphone as a playstation emulator to play video games with a bluetooth controller. Tell me more about how tablets aren't PC's because I believe my life is living proof that anything with a processor and an interface is a PC if you try hard enough.
Posted by watchout5 http://www.overclockeddrama.com on February 7, 2013 at 10:33 AM · Report this
psbirch 16
OS/Architecture is a better dividing line than form factor or other physical attributes as the OS/Arch is the primary limitation of what you can (and can't) do with the system.

Traditionally (insomuch as there is a 'tradition' in an industry so young as computing), a "PC" was a system that ran the mainline Windows OS, which by extension meant a system with an x86 or x64 processor. When talking about the "PC Market" shrinking or growing, this is in contrast to other formats, such as Mac, iOS, Linux, Android, or other devices running bastardized versions of Windows, such as phones running Windows Mobile, or the non-Intel tablets out there that are running Windows RT.

So a "PC" should be anything that can run Windows8 (and/or its predecessors). If your tablet runs Win8, it's a PC. If you have something the size of a quarter running Win8, it's a PC.
Posted by psbirch on February 7, 2013 at 10:36 AM · Report this
17
I am a fossil. I was alive when the first personal computers appeared. My first one had an 8-bit processor and 16K of memory. It's amazing I haven't crumbled into dust already, I know! Almost everything electronic today has tons more processing power than that.

What distinguished the personal computer from other appliances, like adding machines and clock radios, is that you can load your own instructions (programs, applications) to do different tasks. They also had independent operating systems that could be changed or upgraded, and loaded from an external source.

So, for me, what makes a personal computer is that the hardware is separate from the software, and you can load your own software, add your own peripherals, and use it for what you want. It's not dedicated to a handful of tasks.

By that token, a smartphone is more of an appliance, even though you can load apps from third-party sources. Tablets seem to be much more like computers than appliances, so I'm going to go with "PC."
Posted by Brooklyn Reader on February 7, 2013 at 10:48 AM · Report this
Cascadian 18
The whole notion of a PC as a discrete category of computer is quickly becoming out of date.

The relevant categories are something like desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and phones, in order of increasing mobility and decreasing usefulness for intense productive and creative activity. In my view, to produce or create something with a computer you need input devices or software that are relatively fixed and often bulky, starting with the keyboard which is and probably always will be the best device for any task involving words. The mouse is also in this category, along with specialized input devices. If it has a keyboard and mouse and stays fixed in one place, it's a desktop computer. If "PC" has any relevance going forward, it is as a synonym for this category (including Macs and other non-Wintel hardware and software, which are functionally identical in every important respect).

Laptops are any mobile device that still has a usable creative input device, that is, in most cases, a physical keyboard. I *think* the Surface tablets actually fit in this category but I haven't actually used one so it's hard to tell. Any tablet twinned with a keyboard would also really be a laptop, so there's some overlap.

A tablet is a mobile device otherwise similar to a laptop that doesn't have a keyboard or any kind of external or separate input device other than the screen itself. By dropping the keyboard, it becomes useless for most creative tasks but relatively mobile for consumer uses.

A phone is a small tablet that has a two-way voice capability that is easy to use, whether or not it's a standard cell phone or VOIP or whatever.

I think these categories are pretty set for the foreseeable future, until computers can be so small that we can have swarms of small specialized networked devices doing things for us, which is a ways off. At some point the input and display devices will become universally pluggable into any computer and quickly interchangeable, with the same data and networks accessible at all times from whatever input/display devices are handy, and at that point we won't talk about computers (aside from the developers) because computing will be a background detail that mostly happens without us thinking about it much.
More...
Posted by Cascadian on February 7, 2013 at 10:48 AM · Report this
Sir Vic 19
@7
Mudede's philosophical wanderings may be of interest to some and annoying to others, but he knows what he is talking about.

If simply copying a passage from a big name philsopher, posting it to a blog with a fuzzy picture of a dark building, accompanied some non-contextual navel-gazing is "knowing what he is talking about"!

Charles is an embarrassment to the printed word and rational thought patterns. He is the equivalent of the crazy street preacher that makes you appreciate your own sanity.
Posted by Sir Vic on February 7, 2013 at 11:13 AM · Report this
treacle 20
I think the answer is: The lines are blurring significantly (esp. now with MS Surface Pro being more of a PC than a tablet), and we'll all have new words for everything -and a pile of new devices- in a few years from now. Is the Raspberry Pi a PC? Or just a hopped-up Arduino card? What is an Arduino card anyway? You can certainly program it, and it can communicate on the internets too.

I think of a "PC" as something I can program myself - what @16 & 18 said. I can't easily run my own programs on the iPad, nor my smahtphone. My smartphone is basically a digital swiss army knife.

@18 - Don't forget servers! Although "servers" are now evaporating into virtualized environments, to become merely the guest and plaything of 'hosts' and giant disk arrays.
Posted by treacle on February 7, 2013 at 11:18 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 21
The Microsoft Surface Pro is not a PC. It's keyboard typing recognition is too laggy (just ask Fortune), for one thing.

However, PC applications that run in browsers work perfectly fine on tablets and smartphones. I test my web pages on those too. There can be a problem if your navigation is written around a specific keyboard or mouse framework, as to "where" the person is, but you just need to check for all fields at the end and that solves that problem.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on February 7, 2013 at 11:24 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 22
@20 Exactly, what do we call 96 quad core blade servers that run large numbers of virtual servers?
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on February 7, 2013 at 11:26 AM · Report this
23
@22 We call that a friggen awesome use for the garage.
Posted by wxPDX on February 7, 2013 at 11:44 AM · Report this
Womyn2me 24
A PC is anything that is used primarily with a keyboard. not a picture of a keyboard on it's screen. That being said, I am considering getting a Lenovo Yoga, a laptop with a touch screen. you can also fold it over the other way and use it as a tablet.
Posted by Womyn2me http://http:\\www.shelleyandlaura.com on February 7, 2013 at 11:54 AM · Report this
25
PC

Personal Computer

Personal. Used and owned by one person. Opposite: Multiuser. A computer (CPU) that is accessed, owned and shared by many people.

Has nothing to do with the form factor.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://www.you-read-it-here-first.com on February 7, 2013 at 12:09 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 26
Language is constantly changing and evolving. Goldy, et al, fascinating discussion sprung from the original testy reply.

Bailo, you are such a fucking idiot. Does it hurt to be that stupid?
Posted by Dr_Awesome on February 7, 2013 at 12:27 PM · Report this
Dougsf 27
I think the dividing line should be the intent of the device. Is the device designed primarily for the creation of content, or the consumption of content?

Of course even that could get a little hazy with so much crossover in the netbook and tablet markets, and with some of the biggest PC manufactures starting to ignore their "pro" users entirely, lowering the bar on how you might define "content creation"—but I can't think of a more fair demarcation.
Posted by Dougsf on February 7, 2013 at 12:35 PM · Report this
28
I'm with @17; a clear division between hardware and software seems like a reasonable criterion. My desktop at home is a PC, because I can do just about anything I want to it. My phone is not; I can't install a new OS and I can't write software that runs directly on the hardware.

Even if I somehow attach a keyboard, monitor, and mouse to my smartphone, it's still not a PC. Even if I somehow remote into my desktop from my phone, it's still a PC.
Posted by Ben on February 7, 2013 at 1:26 PM · Report this
Backyard Bombardier 29
I think there is something to be said for both @17's approach and @18's. What one can practically use a machine for has to be a key part of putting it into a category.

(And as an aside, Goldy, in my experience "as useful for the bulk of traditional PC tasks as any netbook," translates to pretty fucking useless.)

I also think in some ways it is too early to tell. Feels a bit like sitting around in the mid-19th century discussing the nomenclature of horseless carriages, and whether we should really group these newfangled internal combustion doodads with proper steam-powered varieties.
Posted by Backyard Bombardier on February 7, 2013 at 2:28 PM · Report this
30
#26

Ok, you may now present the etymology of the word "personal" and describe and document the year in which it lost its meaning of being in the use and owned by a single individual.

And when you do, I will contact Pizza Hut and let them know that those little 7 inch pizzas they sell at the airport are now "family sized" and no longer to be called "personal pan".

The psychologist is "Out".
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://www.you-read-it-here-first.com on February 7, 2013 at 7:51 PM · Report this
31
As a postscript to this thread, that nobody is reading anymore anyways, I just noticed a headline on C-Net flit by. It included the brand-honking-new word "phablet." Make of that what you will.

Posted by Brooklyn Reader on February 8, 2013 at 8:08 AM · Report this

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