There are those who, over the past 15 years or so, have hastened to speak of the demise of the desktop personal computer. At first, the so-called network computers threatened, briefly, to destroy the PC; then came the laptops, and today, we have the tablets - iPads and their ilk - with their meteoric rise in popularity. PC sales are still on the rise, albeit barely, and some believe those numbers will soon recede into the negative.
Various reasons lie behind the oft-repeated declarations regarding the demise of the PC:
Firstly, they have been around for a long time - some 30 years, an eternity in Internet terms. During this time, they have not changed very dramatically at all, aside from the fact that they have become faster and more powerful than ever before imagined.
Their stability - a polite way of saying they are boring, which, in turn, is a kind way of saying they are a visual blight in any expanse into which they are inserted - causes many people to detest them.
Secondly, there is the matter of the unwavering and sometimes intolerable queen who goes by the name of Microsoft. A great deal of people would love to get rid of the old lady from Redmond, Washington, who has struggled to produce anything cool in years.
Even if we work on the assumption that the tablets, lead by Apple's iPad, are indeed threatening to step into the shoes of the PC, we cannot be sure that this is a good thing. When it comes to the regular PC, 25 percent of the cost lies in the central processor, one of the costliest components. When it comes to the tablets, on the other hand, the most expensive component is the touch screen (38 percent of the cost of the device ). And what about the central processor? It makes up just 4 percent of the cost.
The significance of the figures is plain to see: The PC is a monster of calculations, of pure and explosive power. It is built in such a way because it needs to know how to do everything quickly, powerfully and perfectly. The central processor in the tablets is a lot weaker - for two reasons. The first concerns their electricity consumption: The stronger the processor the more electricity it consumes; and because we are dealing with a battery, this is a problem.
But the second reason is the important one: The central processors in the tablets are not supposed to know how to do everything, as they are built only for applications that the tablets can run, and these are very limited compared to a PC.
Steve Jobs believed in closed experiences that do not allow users too much freedom of action; as a result, the users can only do what the Apple programmers allow them to do - and very little more.
The Apple iPad's triumph over the PCs means a victory for passivity. Yes, the touch screen allows one to move things from here to there, and that's really cool; but the PC, in all its grayness, is an open technological creation that can be programmed, onto which things can be installed (even things you aren't supposed to install ), that can be dismantled, that can be added to, that can be upgraded, that can be screwed up completely and also repaired. In other words, it invites you to experiment, to be active.
If the iPad is the Mona Lisa, the PC is a LEGO set. Undoubtedly, the Mona Lisa is a sublime artistic creation, but the main thing one can do with it is to admire it; with LEGO blocks, on the other hand, you can be the creator and you don't have to make do with the wonderful creations of others.
While the iPad is certainly an impressive engineering achievement, it is still not worthy of taking the place of the PC. Maybe in the future.
The writer is head of Digital Media studies at the College of Management's School of Media Studies.
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