Apple's Next Move: Make the PC Obsolete

“Complacency is a state of mind that exists only in retrospective: it has to be shattered before being ascertained.”

-- Vladmir Nabokov

Some companies dream up cool products or look at market trends and try to fulfill a need. Apple, however, seems to be doing more. By analyzing critical and single failure points in Microsoft's strategy, Apple could, with one close-out product, make the need for desktop PCs for the home customer irrelevant.

In order to figure out how the Windows PC could become obsolete in that environment, one has to ask the question, "Why do people buy PCs and how do they use them?"

The next question to ask is, "Is a PC the only device that can get the job done for the majority of home users?"

Another good question, then, is "if people are buying PCs to watch traditional video content, how can one solve the convergence issue in one fell swoop?" Loosely, the TV convergence issue has to do with legacy TV (cable, satellite) watched at 3 meters (10 ft) and a PC or Mac on the Internet watched at 0.5 meter (20 inches). That division and its solution (a convergence) has stymied corporation for years, going back to the failure of WebTV.

PC Activities

Note that I'm not talking about tasks that are best done on a desktop PC or Mac in a business environment. Some typical examples are giant, complex Excel spreadsheets or movie making in Final Cut Pro. Apple, as we know, sets the standards for the home user with individual purchase authority, then lets the technology trickle into business, like the iPhone.

If one examines the principle activities conducted by home users on a PC, such as web browsing, e-mail, calendaring, instant communications like Twitter and iChat, it'll be obvious that all of those activities can be conducted on a tablet. Probably TurboTax as well with the right kind of gesture and keyboard refinements.

Note also, that I'm not talking about capturing 100 percent of PC users. There will always be those people who take work home, require a capable desktop PC, or want to solve Navier-Stokes fluid flow equations with a Fortan compiler. It would be sufficient for Apple to capture only a fraction, say 20 percent at first, of the PC market to trigger a cascade failure at Microsoft. Surface computing is not the salvation Microsoft is looking for.

TV Convergence

The convergence issue is tricky, and involves an enabling platform that can serve as a desktop on the lap, yet manage video content on the home HDTV. Because Apple doesn't need to and probably cannot compete against Sony, Samsung, Sharp, and Pioneer in the TV market, any solution has to be separated from but beautifully integrated into the home user's typical set up.

Before I make the formal argument, I want to note that the iPhone is essentially running in the old Multi-Finder mode. One app at a time is all the mobile smartphone user can deal with -- plus some background music. On a 10-inch tablet, however, one can expect many apps to be running at once. And there are 100,000 of them to chose from. Apple's task is to leverage all those 100,000 apps by freeing them from the confines of an iPhone display.

The Solution

Consider a headless home server with a 4 TB drive that holds all the customer files and iTunes content. Consider such a device connected to an HDTV with HDMI. The display is a tablet in the user's lap. When content is desired on the HDTV, the user selects it in iTunes, and it plays in 1080p. When content is desired on the Internet, the user launches Safari on the iTablet. Home file management is also done on the iTablet. For generally young people with no (eye) accommodation problems, switching context and distance is no problem. (Not even for us older people who wear "progressive" eye glasses.)

Best iTablet concept

Credit: Jesus Diaz, Gizmodo

Suddenly, for most people, of either a PC or Mac persuasion, they have everything they need on their lap. The only extra device needed is a super Apple TV running Mac OS X that has monster storage and connects to the TV. The sum of the costs is about what one would pay for a mid-range iMac.

This model gets people away from their dens, siting in isolation, and gets them out and about with the family. The more time customers spend with iTunes on their laptop tablet, the more money Apple makes.


This scenario isn't without some problems. That doesn't mean the scenario is defective. It just means that new solutions need to be found.

  1. This product mix cannibalizes the traditional Mac. The loss in Mac desktop sales would have to be weighed against the gain in new tablet customers.
  2. Apple is loving the security of the iPhone apps in contrast to the old technology of Windows and its horrendous security issues. A new focus on iPhone-like apps, which will likely grow to several hundred thousand, has to be weighed against the health of the developer community for classic Mac OS X apps.
  3. Many Apple customers have come to appreciate Mac OS X, its access to the underlying UNIX. They'll scream bloody murder as Apple appears to be moving its software base from the legacy, desktop UNIX Mac OS X and to tightly controlled iPhone apps.

However, as with most Apple transitions, this process will take years. Apple will continue to sell Mac Pros, MacBooks, and iPhones/iPods to all comers. Remember, Apple has been through this already as the iPod touch cannibalized but surpassed the old iPods.

At this time of year, we tend to think about the future. It's hard to conceive of a future, five years from now, when Apple's product line is just more of the same, but better. Apple has the opportunity to slam the door shut on the traditional, isolated, constraining home PC and move millions of customers to a new era of media convergence and system security. Just exactly how Apple does this has to be handled delicately. If Apple is thinking along these lines, it explains the stagnation of the Apple TV and the delay in the introduction of the iTablet.

That is to say, the iTablet is not just another toy that is added to Apple's product line. Rather it's a strategic product that changes the game. It exploits the casual attitude Microsoft has about the traditional PC enduring forever. Such a transition would require tremendous planning, flawless product design, keen marketing, and maybe even a new data center to support it.

It all makes the hardware design look like the easy part.