Welcome to the Post-Post-PC Era

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Over at, my Technologizer column for this week is about Microsoft’s demo of Windows 8 last week and Apple’s demos of OS X 10.7, iOS 5, and iCloud this week–how they relate to each other and what they might mean for the future of personal technology. I refused to talk about the PC dying, but I did say that we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the PC era.

Really though, it’s all a matter of semantics. If you define the PC as a box with a sizable screen, a physical keyboard, lots of processing power and local storage, and the ability to operate either on a network or disconnected from one, then talking about the beginning of the end of the PC era makes sense. In fact, it ended about fifteen years ago, when use of the Web became widespread.

The thing is, all of the post-PC devices and platforms have an awful lot in common with PCs as we know and love tolerate them:

Google’s Chromebooks are clamshell devices with reasonably large screens, physical QWERTY keyboards, and touchpads. Sounds like PCs to me.

Apple’s iPhone and iPad are devices for running an array of applications that are stored locally and permit you to do just about anything. Sounds like PCs to me.

Windows 8 is going to run on tablets and other newfangled gizmos and features a radical new touch interface, but it’ll also run software we already have  on the computers we already own. You get the idea.

Just for laughs, I looked up Merriam-Webster’s definition of “personal computer:”

personal computer

a general-purpose computer equipped with a microprocessor and designed to run especially commercial software (as a word processor or Internet browser) for an individual user

The iPhone fits that definition. So do Chromebooks. So do just about all the other devices that are part of the PC era.

A few years ago, lots of us carried PDAs. Now, nobody does. The entire category collapsed. Except that it didn’t: It just collided with the phone, and we happen to call the resulting mashup a phone rather than a PDA–even though every smartphone looks more like a 1990s PDA than it does like a 1990s phone.

Nobody would argue that we now live in the PDA era—except that there’s probably some alternate universe that’s much like ours, with one exception: They ended up calling the things that we call smartphones “PDAs.”  (Which means that in that universe, Apple sells something called the iPDA. Or maybe the iPalmtop.) The words just don’t matter that much.

So if you’re hung up on terminology, sure: Talk about the end of the PC era. But it’s just as logical to look at what’s happening as the ultimate triumph of the PC—everything is PC-like  these days. Anyone want to join me in idiosyncratically insisting that we’re entering the post-post-PC era?

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