The Tablet is Just Another Option

The Rise of the Personal Computer

Way back, the mainframe used to be your “cloud”. You could access it from a number of places and work on the same data, but with it time-shared so much or that the company never upgraded it because it cost so much to run, it was often slow.

The PC became popular because an affordable got powerful enough that since it gave all of its attention to you, it was faster. However, the “cloud” was gone (and so were the computer maintenance people, which was good and bad). Unless your data fit on a disk, you couldn’t access it from anywhere.

The Rise Of Laptops

We started to do more on our desktop computers, and we sometimes wanted to or needed to get out of the house. Laptops became popular. They also solved the problem of making our data portable, or rather they dodged it by simply taking your data with you. This is why laptops had to be powerful. They had become your main computer. They had become big, heavy and hot on your lap, and they soon were back on your desktop.

The Rise Of Mobile

Our laptops were not very nimble, and with the Internet, we’d come to do so much on our computer that breaking out tasks to other devices was compelling. PDAs were okay, but their merger with the cell phone gave them the magic of Internet access. The iPhone made them easy to use.

Then we came to do many things on our phone computers and less on our desktop computers. This was partly because many things were a better fit for a mobile device. The laptop could cover some of it, but not all of it well since it was bulky and had limited battery life. Having a to do app on your desktop was minimally useful, having it on your laptop was mildly useful, but having it in your hand was very useful. A to do app on an Internet connected smartphone that stays in sync with your desktop and laptop is even better.

The iPad arrived to skepticism, mostly as to what you would do with it. We already had desktop and laptop computers for big jobs or “getting real work done” (image of submitting a large stack of punch cards to a mini-computer to run some scientific calculation), and the “tablet computer” had failed several years ago. Why would we want a new computer that was less powerful than what we had?


It turns out there is a use for it. You were using a laptop before, but it didn’t sit comfortably in your lap for extended periods or didn’t balance nicely on the arm of the chair. For a number of people, they moved some of what they were doing on the computer and some of what they were doing on the phone to the iPad. Not everything.

Originally, you didn’t have the option. You only had the desktop computer to do all your computing tasks. Then you got the laptop, and you had an option to do some with a portable computer. Then you got the smart phone, and you had an option to do some things on that. Some things were a little ridiculous to do on a phone, but you didn’t have any other option unless you had your laptop with you. The chance of having a given device with you is inversely proportional to its size and directly proportional to its utility, so it’s natural to do many things on your phone since it’s nearly always with you even if the device isn’t ideal for some of those things.

Once you have the option of the iPad, you can move some of those tasks to it that are not well suited to the phone, but are annoying to do on the laptop. Some things moved, but other stuff was accessed additionally on the iPad because of desktop sync and cloud sync. The iPad became just another view of your data.

Since it is not nearly as cramped as an iPhone screen, it is much more practical to work on your data, whereas the iPhone is well-suited to gather it, check it off or look at it. The thing is, that’s the sort of thing you used to do on your desktop. Now, unless its a big organization job, it’s more appealing to do it on the iPad now that you have the option.

The reality is that we didn’t need to do all these things on our desktop computer, it’s just that we didn’t have the option before. It’s like how email added another way to send messages to people. Of course, it was going to reduce the number of letters posted and phone calls made, simply because it is a more natural way for many of the messages to be sent, whereas before your only option was to send a letter or call. SMS did the same thing.

Full Circle

It’s clear that the idea from several years ago that we’d have a server computer on our network someday wasn’t completely wrong. It assumed that you’d get this big iron, probably in a rack in a closet and it would serve up stuff to your several machines in the house.

Well, it turns out that server is your current desktop computer. The clients are your iPhones, iPads and Apple TVs. The personal computer that started out as the thing to free you from the central (corporate) mainframe has now, itself become the central machine and the new mobile computers give us our freedom. With so much of the usual activity moving to the mobile devices, the big desktop has more free cycles these days.

It seems the desktop is getting much less love these days for me. Maybe it feels like those mainframes once people started getting PCs. I know that some people live on their laptops, but then I do my day job on a different computer than home. I have a laptop too, but it mostly sits there waiting for me to charge it up again. I would certainly use the desktop less than I do if it weren’t for the iPad being shared amongst the family.