Software, Hardware, Silverware


Hello, I’m a Mac.

And I’m a PC.

Those familiar words headlined the “Get A Mac” ad campaign, one of Apple’s most memorable and most-parodied. Those ads popularized the misnomer of referring to Wintels as “PCs” and Macintoshes as “Macs”. People developed the idea that Macs weren’t PCs, even though by definition they are and were. For that, I hate the term “PC”. It’s had so many meanings over the years that it’s evolved into a convoluted and ambiguous mess.

The latest debate over PCs has been whether or not the iPad should be classified as one. Wait a second — so we’ve gone from Macs being totally different than PCs to Apple’s crowning achievement, the iPad, being steadfastly defended as one by its biggest fans. Well I’ll tell you right now: the iPad is not a PC.

Yes, the iPad is personal. Yes, the iPad is a computer. It is a personal computer, but it is not a PC. Put another way, all PCs are personal computers, but not all personal computers are PCs. A PC has a keyboard, a monitor, and a mouse or trackpad (or nub). An iPad is meant to be used with exactly one of those things. A PC has a big hard drive and lots of RAM and is open to all kinds of software and hardware. An iPad has a small flash drive, minimal RAM, and is famously closed.

Here’s the biggest hole in the “iPad as a PC” argument: if you’re going to say that the iPad should be classified a PC, then how can you say that the iPhone shouldn’t? You can’t. The iPad and the iPhone have much more in common than the iPad and PCs. They run the same operating system, are controlled via the same means, and do pretty much all the same things. But it sounds absurd to label a cell phone as a PC. That’s because it is.

The iPhone is not a PC, it’s a smartphone. Similarly, the iPad is not a PC, it’s a tablet — not a “Tablet PC”, mind you, but a completely separate, two-year-old category of device. It’s hard for us to think of the iPad being in a distinct category because the category is so tiny. As Marco Arment said fourteen months ago: “There really isn’t much of a tablet market. There’s an iPad market.”

Does that mean that the iPad can’t replace a PC? Absolutely not. Does that mean that the PC industry has nothing to worry about? Hell no. The iPad will and has in fact already begun to replace PCs, but that’s the key: it’s replacing PCs, it isn’t becoming one. Jobs himself said at the D8 conference almost two years ago, “I think PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them, and this is going to make some people uneasy.” Clearly he did not mean that iPads are going to be like trucks and less people are going to need them. He sets a clear distinction between PCs and iPads. PCs are on their way out, and iPads are on their way in.

PCs are the devices of yesteryear; tablets are the devices of tomorrow. The iPad is the future, and it isn’t going to up and become the past. I think Steve Jobs would be ashamed of all those calling the iPad a PC. With the iPhone and later the iPad, he wasn’t aiming to reinvent the “PC”, he was aiming to revolutionize “personal computing”. He did.