Post-PC Era: Fact Or Fiction? - InformationWeek

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8/12/2011
12:06 PM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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Post-PC Era: Fact Or Fiction?

Laptops don't generate the excitement of slick tablets and smartphones. But are you really ready to go sans PC?

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Dell executives were telling me about a massive brand campaign around the company's upcoming line of new laptops, expressing how the ads would touch upon the passions of people, how their lives were connected to their computers now, how the idea was to give Dell a heart, and I liked it and agreed the idea was a good one. And yet I remember wondering not whether people would buy new Dell laptops, but whether they would get excited about buying laptops at all. And so it is fitting to ask, on this day, the 30th anniversary of the PC, whether this is truly the Post-PC era.

This week, Dell quietly announced two inexpensive additions to its Inspiron series, which the company said is focused on things like digital entertainment. The new Dell Inspiron 14Z and 13Z are super thin, feature a sleek aluminum lid, and cost about $600.

Meanwhile, Toshiba announced its Qosmio F755 3D, a glasses-free 3-D laptop it showed off earlier this year at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). I got a good look at the technology then and, well, yes, it's 3-D.

Oh, the things we do to revive a routine and humdrum technology.

Dell also announced in July enhancements to Stage, which started as user interface in front of Windows, but is now more like a control center for other Dell or DLNA devices on your home WiFi network. Late last month, Verizon announced that it was shipping its fast LTE 4G network connectivity on an HP Pavilion dm1-3010 laptop.

Let's review: Lighter, thinner, cheaper, connected, 3-D. (Heck, even phones have glasses-free 3-D displays now.)

Are you excited about PCs yet? I didn't think so.

That's because Apple has a new iPhone coming out. In fact, the latest rumors have Apple shipping not only an iPhone 5, but perhaps a free iCloud iPhone, all this Fall. There's also a new version of iOS, Apple's mobile platform.

It's also because there's a new version of Android, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich, on its way. At that point we can start talking excitedly about another version--perhaps Jello, or maybe Jello shots. See, isn't this fun?

Or it's because HP just made permanent the price drop of its TouchPad tablet, to $399, and Acer and Vizio each have tablets under $400. Thursday, InformationWeek.com's Eric Zeman reported that a 7-inch HP TouchPad Go might be in the works. Or maybe it's the anticipation of a series of tablets from Amazon, as BYTE's Gina Smith reported Thursday; one of them will have quad-core processors and a glass-on-glass display that lets the tablet be used as an Amazon book reader and computing device.

What, pray tell, can a silly, middle-aged PC do that a tablet can't? Tablet users can even video conference over Skype, which has now even come to the iPad.

Oh, maybe it's really because of these new Chromebooks, from Google partners Samsung and Acer, running a Web-based operating environment, courtesy of Google. It's really just a PC in sheep's clothing, but the Chromebook dispenses with the notion of local resources, and stays locked down, security-wise; unless we're talking about those crazy browser extensions people like to install, in which case, it's pretty vulnerable. Now you can even stream Netflix on the Chromebook, as InformationWeek.com's Tom Claburn reported earlier this week.

So Dell, Toshiba, Lenovo, Sony, and Asus ... all of these new laptops and netbooks are nice. They might even cost less than some of these new-fangled tablets and phones and ... well, whatever you want to call the Chromebook. Some, like Apple's MacBook Air, might even be lighter and slimmer than some tablets. They might have app stores, like those fun phones. And more meaningful apps. They might have exciting new operating systems, like OS X Lion, which borrows some tricks from the mobile OS world; and an equally enticing Windows 8, that does the same, and may just blend the experience across all computing devices.

And despite what seems like a downturn in PC sales they might, indeed, be just as indispensable as they always were. Yes, PC, it might just be a Post-PC era, whatever that means, but we still love you. Happy birthday.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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