Back when Apple used to churn out those epic “Mac vs. PC” commercials, the PC was the catch-all term for all that is wrong with Windows-based computers. PCs, according to these spots, were prone to viruses, bad operating systems (Vista, anyone?), and are used by the boring “suits” as personified by the bumbling John Hodgman. (Check out a medley of these awesome commercials in the video below.)
While these stereotypes (and issues) still exist for (mostly) Windows computers, it seems like PC as a term is no longer as loaded with negative connotations as it was in the early 2000s when these commercials were everywhere. At its core, PC is just the abbreviated form of “Personal Computer,” which is technically a computer made for individuals rather than the mainframes designed for corporations and government. Lately, it seems the term is once again just short-hand to refer to laptops and desktops.
Microsoft’s vice president of corporate communications, Frank X. Shaw, would like to expand our definition of what we consider a PC. After all, he believes iPads and other tablets are now increasingly used in the same way as full-sized computers and therefore deserve the PC moniker, too.
As Shaw observed from the All Things Digital (D11) event this week, many attendees were using iPads and other tablets like a traditional PC but in the place of a clamshell laptop. Most people were typing on their slates with a physical keyboard to create content, while their mobile device was connected to some kind of network. “In [this] context, it’s hard to distinguish between a tablet and a notebook or laptop,” Shaw wrote in a post on The Official Microsoft Blog. “The form factors are different, but let’s be clear, each is a PC.”
He believes both tablets and computers are increasingly one and the same in users’ lives, which is essentially a multi-purpose device to help people get things done and be entertained. “Many of those form factors are more mobile, and look different from the traditional desktop PC, but the same core idea drives it – personal in nature, used for work and for play, runs applications, connected to a network… etc,” Shaw wrote. “No matter what label you put on them, they are personal computing devices.”
For most users who just need a device to get online and check emails, they really don’t need all the computing power of a traditional PC. In most cases, they can make do with the computing power that tablets or smartphones are already capable of, as Paul Thurrott of the Supersite for Windows points out.
In this sense, are we really in a post-PC era, as analysts and increasingly gloomy PC sales reports suggest? Or are our computing needs just expanding to other form factors like smartphones and tablets, and it’s just our language that hasn’t caught up to our behaviors? In an age when most services like email are accessible on any device with Internet connection, does it really matter where we draw the line on what is and what is not a PC anymore?