10 Reasons Why the PC Is Here to Stay
6. Mobile devices don't cater to businesses
As much as the tech industry loves to celebrate its "road warriors," in truth mobile business users have been given surprisingly short shrift. While much is made of the ability to play YouTube videos on mobile phones, for example, the needs of enterprise IT departments are barely even paid lip service.
Security tops the list of those needs. Fingerprint readers, onboard data encryption, and other hardware-based security features, now common on laptops, have yet to be incorporated in smartphones and other "post-PC" devices. Mobile users need to be able to access VPNs and navigate corporate networks, but with the possible exception of BlackBerry handsets, few devices support the kind of centrally managed policy control that Windows PCs do. Nor do they allow centralized management of OS patches and security updates, which is sure to be a problem as cyber criminals begin targeting mobile browsers.
Apple says it has added more business-oriented features to iOS 4, the latest release of its iPhone and iPad operating system, but these are just baby steps. As of this writing, many of these capabilities are half-implemented, with management tools due later in the year.
That's no way to spark a computing revolution. The NPD Group expects IT purchasing to be strong in 2010, first among small and midsize businesses and later in enterprises. If Apple and other device vendors want to push the industry beyond the PC, they'll need to do a better job of catering to this market first.
7. Cloud services aren't reliable enough
Computing with low-powered tablets and handsets inevitably means offloading some processing to the cloud. That's true of the iPad and especially Google's forthcoming Chrome OS devices, which will rely entirely on Web-based services to function. But if Apple and Google expect customers to ditch their PCs for these devices, the accompanying services better be rock-solid.
Unfortunately, cloud computing's track record to date has hardly been flawless. For all its vaunted data center prowess, Google has struggled to meet performance demand in the business version of its App Engine cloud computing platform, where uptime is critical. Its public services, such as Gmail, have also suffered outages. And Google is not alone; periodic outages at Salesforce.com, the leading SaaS vendor, have elicited many a grumble from its customers, and the same is true of just about every service out there.
Outages are particularly painful for users of mobile devices. An outage on Research in Motion's BlackBerry network in 2008 disrupted service for customers across all of North America -- including, presumably, a campaigning Barack Obama -- even though the company had been criticized for a similar outage the year before. Worst of all, however, was Microsoft's bungling of Danger's cloud-based Sidekick mobile platform, which erased undisclosed amounts of users' stored data. Before customers are willing to give up their PCs completely, cloud service providers must do a lot better.
8. Cloud computing won't work for everything
AMD and Intel haven't exactly given up developing processors for desktop PCs and laptops, and with good reason. Sure, low-wattage chip designs such as ARM and Intel's Atom have become increasingly powerful, but there's still plenty of demand for multicore chips with high clock speeds. Similarly, new PCs ship with ever more onboard RAM, and multiterabyte hard drives are becoming mainstream. If cloud computing will make the desktop obsolete, why hasn't the PC hardware arms race slowed?
The simple fact is that typical PC users still rely on local horsepower for many of their computing workloads. Consider the ongoing popularity of PC gaming: Even the most network-centric multiplayer online games rely heavily on thick client software to render their graphics. As a result, gamers remain the most avid purchasers of hardware upgrades, and they're sure to look askance at any lightweight "media device" that fails to deliver the goods.
Gamers aren't alone. Any application that pushes a lot of data becomes extremely inefficient when an Internet connection is the bottleneck. From photo editing to 3-D imaging to complex data analysis, there are plenty of tasks that simply work better on a PC. Indeed, even Gartner now advises businesses to use caution when evaluating cloud-based SaaS (software as a service), saying it "will have a role in the future of IT, but not the dominant future that was first thought." If the world's biggest software companies can't get a Web-based office suite right, good luck replacing Photoshop -- and that goes double if you shut out technologies such as Flash and Java, as Apple has done with the iPad.
9. Desktop and mobile operating systems don't mix
Designing a post-PC device is something of a tightrope act. It has to support typical PC use cases, but it can't just be a PC wedged into a funky form factor.
"[Microsoft's] tablet was based on a PC," Steve Jobs told the audience at the D8 Conference. "It had the battery life, the weight, it needed a cursor like a PC. But the minute you throw a stylus out, you have the precision of a finger, you can't use a PC OS. You have to create it from scratch."
But what do you include in a post-PC OS and what do you leave out? Perhaps the most infamous example of a mobile OS that tried to do too much is Windows Mobile, which even Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has described as a disappointment. In an effort to regain market share, Microsoft is now readying no fewer than five new operating systems for smartphones and mobile devices. That's sure to confuse consumers, but it underscores the difficulty of coming up with a one-size-fits-all platform for mobile computing.
The larger problem is that when you start from scratch, as Apple has done with the iPad, you force customers to do so, too. Considering that Apple's various incarnations of Mac OS were never able to win significant market share away from Windows, the odds that iOS will succeed this time seem long indeed.
10. PCs are familiar
The bottom line is that PCs were designed to model things that people did already, and they still do a good job of it. PCs have keyboards, just like the typewriters that preceded them. The WYSIWYG application model has become the norm; its output resembles printed paper. GUI interfaces have evolved to resemble everyday objects. The mouse-and-cursor model may be an inadequate substitute for hands-on controls, but it performs its function reasonably well.
Moreover, most of us gain our first exposure to computing in school, where we regularly write long papers, crunch numbers, plot graphs, and print out reports -- all activities best suited to PCs. As long as users are trained to reach for PCs early in their education and their careers, they're likely to continue to do so throughout their lives.
Will post-PC devices begin to edge out PCs as time goes on? Perhaps, but not if they merely replace PCs for the same tasks we do now. For a true computing revolution to occur, post-PC devices will have to offer use cases that were never possible with traditional desktop and laptop computers.
Far more likely is that we're entering a "PC plus" era, one in which traditional PCs are supplemented by a range of smartphones, tablets, and other devices. But that's OK -- we still see trucks on the road, too.
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