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Old 11-22-2011, 09:11 PM   #1
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Default Should Tablets and Smartphones be Considered "PCs"?

A new debate's upon us! No one would argue the fact that smartphones, tablets and similar devices are "computers", but would it be appropriate to label the same devices "PCs"? With an analyst firm doing just that recently, we've decided to take a look at multiple factors to see if such a classification is a good or bad thing.

Read through our latest editorial and then discuss it here!
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Old 11-23-2011, 09:14 AM   #2
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From a technical point of view, I think there should be no doubts that these devices are personal computers. As you well point out, Rob, the definition at Wikipedia isn't an invention. This is how PCs have been described since they first appeared. It's by no accident that entry on Wikipedia mentions tablets further down, as well as ultra mobiles and pocket PCs, both of which have been in recent years replaced by smartphones.

I personally resist the idea of naming a smartphone a PC. But that's due to the decades I spent on PCs and the understanding I have of how I operate with them. It's just an irrational desire to keep things separate. But I must admit I'm wrong. These machines are personal computers for all purposes. More on that below.

...

Why the debate? Why does this keep being brought up?

I think It all boils down to history of how PCs came to be and of how tablets and smartphones came to be. When PCs where first defined as a computing platform and successfully commercialized in the early 70s , there were no tablets or smartphones. No ultra portables or pocket PCs. The close we had were a few portable calculators that were them too taking their first steps. There was no concern then to come up with a more stringent definition for a system that was, after all, unique.

For nearly 4 decades PCs pretty dominated the world of computing and successfully entered our houses and everything else, from government to small and large businesses. With the advent of distributed computing as a practical platform back in the 90s, it could even be said PCs penetrated the market for supercomputers by those that were able to take advantage of it.

But it was very clear to anyone during all this time, that PCs were not always adequate tools. Clunky and impractical in some circumstances, impossible to work with in others. Laptops remedied this situation and it can be said they still remain as the one practical solution for serious portable computing. But that wasn't enough.

The internet exposed, like nothing before it, the fragility pf the PC platform reach. Being entirely platform agnostic, the internet doesn't need to rely on any specific platform to be used. PCs, phones, supercomputers, internet devices of all kinds can exist. Heck, my house alarm system can use the internet. And as the internet evolved into a communications channel, service provider and a marketplace, the PCs started to look like "too much for such a simple thing".

It was evident PCs were reaching into certain segments of the population simply because there weren't alternatives. But once those alternatives existed, PCs would step down or witness a significant share of that market being lost to these new devices.

And that's exactly what happened. PCs re-positioned themselves, as new more focused and elegant devices took over of specific markets. Markets for which the PC existed before only because of the lack of a real and practical alternative.

...

This distinction is what I believe is often the source of the PC vs. Tablet debate. Technically both are the same. But their demographics are different and they serve distinct markets that share nonetheless some common grounds. Just like the example you gave of the Toyota vs. Ferrari.

What we could perceive as lacking is not a clarification of the Tablet definition. What in fact can be considered lacking is a clarification of the Desktop and Laptop definition, since their ubiquity and always presence in the history of PCs have pretty much made them one and the same with the term PC. It turns out however that new devices are challenging that and the terms Desktop and Laptop could use a clarification.

....

Or not. It, we must agree, matters little. The debate is unfortunately almost always raised as a means to express sympathies or dislikes and spread the type ideological nonsense that unfortunately the tech industry became a victim of. Not as a serious attempt at defining new and more appropriate syntax and semantics to an ever evolving tech industry.

Nerds and techies (which we are representatives of) form unfortunately one of the worst religious bunch of any industry, save for sports. It's often sickening to be part of this group of fanboys and haters, who can't seem to be able to look critically at the whole industry in a balanced and intelligent way.

For everything else however, a more concrete way of distinguish these devices seems to not be serving any purpose. Markets themselves are well aware of the differences. So are consumers when they go shopping for a tablet of a new desktop. The world seems to know the differences well.
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Old 11-23-2011, 09:14 AM   #3
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So what to make of Canalys approach? I'm entirely not sure how happy Apple is about that.

It's well known that market analysts often work as marketing consultants. Often their projections, advise or predictions work as a means to attempt to shape the markets, not study them. So anyone with two eyes, and a brain in between, always take these things with a serious grain of salt. Especially if they are playing on the exchange market.

These type of forecasts are almost always intended at the markets, functioning as the equivalent of a commercial ad. An ad that serves not the actual company they are "promoting" but the investors these analysts represent and who put money on shares and would like to see their value climb.

If this "ad" goes against the company internal marketing strategy, tough luck.

Apple has good reason to not want to lump tablets with PCs. The moment that is done, Apple tablet products completely lose their market dominance and becomes a single digit figure in the vast market of personal computers. And there could be stock price consequences. So Canalys projection can be anything but flattering.

On the other hand, if Canalys can make it pass unnoticed, as they obviously are trying to do here, they can serve the purpose of furthering Apple share prices, as long as people are willing to let it pass.

And are they?

Sure they are. Apple share prices are at an incredible high. Rumors of a bubble abound. But the markets (stock exchange) never cared for that. They work in an insidious manner, in that they want for bubbles to form. That's where the real money is (if you can get out at the last minute).

Apple shares are a tough investment. You buy high and you need to somehow feed the machine into making it even higher if you can have any hopes of seeing a return to your investment. So, sure! Anything that can induce the prices to climb is welcomed, even if it makes little sense. Expanding that bubble as much as possible.

As long as there seems to be room for an increase in price, prices will go up. I'm unsure at exactly how Apple trading is going these days. But projections like Canalys seem to indicate me a lot of shares are exchanging hands and buyers need prices to go up.

The stock exchange makes anyone a victim of their success. And this includes even market analysts conducting their own personal campaigns. For the moment it is serving Apple well. It grew the company from a bystander into the largest tech company in the planet in just 5 years. Everyone knows what is going on. But no one cares as long as they take their dividends of off it.
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Old 11-23-2011, 09:31 AM   #4
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This a great post Rob; well done!

As far as the subject goes, well tablets, like those of a traditional PC, have a cpu, memory, screens, and do, as you said, many of the things that traditional PCs do. Just because desktop PCs are bigger, faster or more powerful doesn't mean that laptops aren't PCs too, so why should people say that tablets are any different?

Steve Ballmer always stated that tablets were PCs, so if the head guy at one of the world's greatest PC companies think tablets are PCs, then I guess they are!
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Old 11-23-2011, 03:02 PM   #5
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Just wow. I guess if there is an issue or viewpoint that exists, there's a research firm out there that supports it.

Seriously though, there's no way a tablet is a PC, simply based on one fact. The definition of a PC includes the word "capabilities", and there are plenty of things a tablet (and especially smartphones) cannot do.

I can't use one to play most games like TF2 or Civ V. I can't use most pads to open, edit, or create Office documents, and most smartphones can't either. Those that can, it's pretty cumbersome to try. Forget typing a ten page article on a smartphone! I suppose I could watch videos on a smartphone or tablet... but I don't get the same experience as I would with my 24" full HD monitor, or HDTV so why would I want to? And that's assuming the video is specially formatted and the codec is supported, what if it wasn't? What if I want to browse the full web, not just the mobile web or pages that don't use flash?

Smartphones and tablets offer only a very limited slice of a PC's capabilities, and for that reason I don't consider them a PC, nor do they meet the definition of a PC. It'd ridiculous what many research firms claim these days.
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Old 11-23-2011, 08:43 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by marfig
This distinction is what I believe is often the source of the PC vs. Tablet debate. Technically both are the same. But their demographics are different and they serve distinct markets that share nonetheless some common grounds. Just like the example you gave of the Toyota vs. Ferrari.
Some even take it further than this. In talking to a friend earlier, he mentioned that he doesn't even consider a notebook to be a PC, but rather just desktops. I can see where he's coming from. For decades, PCs meant "desktop" to everyone, even though the term is in fact rather open-ended and simple.

Quote:
Originally Posted by marfig
So what to make of Canalys approach? I'm entirely not sure how happy Apple is about that.
I don't think Apple cares, to be honest, though I am sure the company wouldn't turn down any report that places it on a pedestal. Steve Jobs never called the iPad a tablet, but rather a device for the "post-PC" era. He didn't consider it to be a PC, likely because he didn't want it to be associated with one.

Quote:
Originally Posted by marfig
Apple has good reason to not want to lump tablets with PCs. The moment that is done, Apple tablet products completely lose their market dominance and becomes a single digit figure in the vast market of personal computers. And there could be stock price consequences. So Canalys projection can be anything but flattering.
What I wonder is how this sort of classification benefits anyone. As a researcher, it does you little good to have tablets treated as PCs, because they are different from desktops, as mentioned in the article. From an end-user perspective the same could be said. It almost skews things, because the common perception is that tablets are not PCs, so I'd imagine that if someone saw a report that Apple became the #1 market leader in PC shipments, people would think that it was referring to the Mac and MacBook line.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MacMan
As far as the subject goes, well tablets, like those of a traditional PC, have a cpu, memory, screens, and do, as you said, many of the things that traditional PCs do. Just because desktop PCs are bigger, faster or more powerful doesn't mean that laptops aren't PCs too, so why should people say that tablets are any different?
Well, to be fair, point-of-sale machines at a supermarket also have a CPU, memory, screens and so forth - but those aren't considered to be PCs. I think the general consensus here is that end-user devices that allow people to do the vast majority of what they need to do would be considered a PC. Tablets might not be great at encoding video, but neither would a netbook.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MacMan
Steve Ballmer
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kougar
Seriously though, there's no way a tablet is a PC, simply based on one fact. The definition of a PC includes the word "capabilities", and there are plenty of things a tablet (and especially smartphones) cannot do.
I have to disagree here. The "capabilities" of a tablet might not be sufficient for you, but they might be perfect for someone else. There are a lot of people out there who at most, edit photos, and that can be done on a tablet. Even music and video editing can be done on a tablet, along with writing documents, messing with spreadsheets and so forth. No, these capabilities are not as inviting, robust or easy as they are on a desktop PC, but I don't think that matters.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kougar
I can't use one to play most games like TF2 or Civ V.
Neither can Linux... does that mean there is no such thing as a Linux PC? Tablets can run games just fine as well, so I am not sure I totally understand your point.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kougar
I can't use most pads to open
Quote:
Originally Posted by Article
First, Canalys doesn't refer to tablets as "tablets", but rather "pads" - a term that virtually no one uses.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Kougar
Smartphones and tablets offer only a very limited slice of a PC's capabilities, and for that reason I don't consider them a PC, nor do they meet the definition of a PC. It'd ridiculous what many research firms claim these days.
I tend to agree, and even with this article, I won't refer to tablets and smartphones as PCs. I just admit the fact that in some cases, they can be. I am confident in the fact that an overwhelming majority of people don't consider anything but a notebook or desktop to be a PC, so it's pointless to refer to them as such. Desktops and notebooks have been treated separately in industry reports forever, so to treat a tablet the same as a desktop and notebook is nonsensical. We should have split groups like: smartphone, tablet, ultra-portable (netbook included), notebook and desktop.
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Old 11-23-2011, 09:18 PM   #7
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Quote:
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Just wow. I guess if there is an issue or viewpoint that exists, there's a research firm out there that supports it.
LOL. And wait until universities get in and start doing their, hmm, studies so they can justify their grant money. Before you know it, it gets proven by a study that tablets help release more testosterone than PCs.


Quote:
Seriously though, there's no way a tablet is a PC, simply based on one fact. The definition of a PC includes the word "capabilities", and there are plenty of things a tablet (and especially smartphones) cannot do. I can't use one to play most games like TF2 or Civ V. I can't use most pads to open, edit, or create Office documents, and most smartphones can't either.
No way. Can't agree with this

The same thing could be said of my old Amstrad PC 1512. And that was one popular PC of the late 80s and early 90s.

I do see where you are getting at though. But I don't think it is so clear cut. For one, Rob's point about it essentially working as a PC for people that don't require that functionality. This is a strong argument, because the definition of a PC never detailed any specific tasks a personal computer should do. That's something that exists entirely on our heads.

But also because every task a PC performs can be performed by a tablet, or introduced in a tablet either by means of new software or hardware. Can't play Civ V? Well, wait a moment while I do a port for the tablet. Can't plugin an USB? Let me just do a tablet with a USB port.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Kougar View Post
Those that can, it's pretty cumbersome to try. Forget typing a ten page article on a smartphone! I suppose I could watch videos on a smartphone or tablet... but I don't get the same experience as I would with my 24" full HD monitor, or HDTV so why would I want to? And that's assuming the video is specially formatted and the codec is supported, what if it wasn't? What if I want to browse the full web, not just the mobile web or pages that don't use flash?
These are all entirely circumstantial. Tablets lack of support for Flash are not a defining factor. A PC doesn't stop being a PC if I run Linux on it and I can't get Flash to work. A non existing codec doesn't rob a PC of its nature either. Neither the lack of a keyboard, if we consider a tablet can have a keyboard plugged to it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kougar View Post
Smartphones and tablets offer only a very limited slice of a PC's capabilities, and for that reason I don't consider them a PC, nor do they meet the definition of a PC. It'd ridiculous what many research firms claim these days.
The definition of a PC is entirely traversal to its capabilities. Let's read that definition again:

"A personal computer (PC) is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals [...]"

The term "capabilities" is not being defined, nor is it being used as a defining term. They key concern is that its capabilities make it useful for individuals.

Where I do think we have a good starting point for debate is the use of "general-purpose computer". That is, the question that can be raised (and particularly for smartphones) is how much general-purpose these devices really are?
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Old 11-28-2011, 07:33 AM   #8
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I will just say that I do not consider them PC, because there is limited flexibility to change anything in the device as a whole. There is no changing the HDD, Video Card, Ram and etc. These are all things that are needed to quality something as a PC, at least in my view point. I call them Tactile Computer's or TC's in my own classification but Table it perfect as well. I will never call one of those a PC anytime soon.
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Old 11-30-2011, 05:23 AM   #9
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Rob, it's funny you should mention the tablet vs pads thing. I was in a price club inspecting the 5 different tablets they had on display... a pair of Chinese women came up and just randomly inquired in halting English if these were "pads".

I never really paid any attention to the distinction myself as I didn't see any difference in meaning. Most of the non-technical people I run into speak of them as pads though, seems like. Guess it rubbed off on me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by marfig View Post
The same thing could be said of my old Amstrad PC 1512. And that was one popular PC of the late 80s and early 90s.

I do see where you are getting at though. But I don't think it is so clear cut. For one, Rob's point about it essentially working as a PC for people that don't require that functionality. This is a strong argument, because the definition of a PC never detailed any specific tasks a personal computer should do. That's something that exists entirely on our heads.

But also because every task a PC performs can be performed by a tablet, or introduced in a tablet either by means of new software or hardware. Can't play Civ V? Well, wait a moment while I do a port for the tablet. Can't plugin an USB? Let me just do a tablet with a USB port.
Okay, those are some fair points, and you're right. That's a good example about the Amstrad.

I guess the only point I can make is that tablets, especially the Kindle Fire and iPad 2, are extremely closed ecosystems. They prevent any unauthorized programs or applications or drivers or software, unless the tablet is otherwise hacked first. Those are less like a computer and more like a computer "terminal" where you have access to PC features but nothing else. I personally view tablets as a "terminal" to access my PC's functionality, features, and files, more than an actual, portable PC.

Quote:
Originally Posted by marfig View Post
"A personal computer (PC) is any general-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and original sales price make it useful for individuals [...]"

The term "capabilities" is not being defined, nor is it being used as a defining term. They key concern is that its capabilities make it useful for individuals.

Where I do think we have a good starting point for debate is the use of "general-purpose computer". That is, the question that can be raised (and particularly for smartphones) is how much general-purpose these devices really are?
Aye, most definitely. Not to argue but just for some thought... using that very definition of a PC, is a "terminal" station a PC too? Since a terminal is just a monitor + mouse + keyboard remotely connected to a virtualized OS in some server bank in another building or city... it meets that definition of a PC, yet it clearly is not?
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Old 12-03-2011, 02:42 AM   #10
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If you want to find out whether tablets and smartphones are "computers" try hacking into the FBI with one and see how long it takes the Court to decide you used a computer to do so.
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Old 12-03-2011, 12:10 PM   #11
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It's been proven time and time again that most people in power are idiots when it comes to technology. I'd never trust their conclusion on something vs. people who actually understand technology.
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Old 12-03-2011, 03:47 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kougar View Post
.
.
.
I guess the only point I can make is that tablets, especially the Kindle Fire and iPad 2, are extremely closed ecosystems. They prevent any unauthorized programs or applications or drivers or software, unless the tablet is otherwise hacked first. Those are less like a computer and more like a computer "terminal" where you have access to PC features but nothing else. I personally view tablets as a "terminal" to access my PC's functionality, features, and files, more than an actual, portable PC.
.
.
.
Doesn't that describe Apple anything?

Not arguing, just trying to keep it stirred up tho.
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Old 12-05-2011, 02:43 PM   #13
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Doesn't that describe Apple anything?

Not arguing, just trying to keep it stirred up tho.
Troublemaker! 10 lashes! Or worse, a serious answer!

Macs definitely follow the same rules as PCs on this regard. So I would say, no. The iAnything might be what you are looking for.

In any case a certain care must be taken on how we lead the argumentation based on general-purpose computers. As an example, we may start denying many types of Servers their rightful place as a PC. Especially machines that behave both as a server and a utilitarian computer (how many of us use LAMP or any of its derivatives on our PCs?). So saying Servers are PCs is as wrong as saying Servers and not PCs.

What I mean to say is that it is the function that defines a PC. Form has nothing to do with it. If I were to write an equation, it would look like:

PC = Function + ( Form * 0)

Kougar argument is thus important, in my opinion. He illustrated something on these devices that goes against the general-purpose nature of a PC.
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