The Mac No Longer Competes Against the PC

| Particle Debris

Squaring offFor more than two decades, the Mac fought tooth and nail against the classic PC. And lost. Nowadays, it’s not Mac vs. PC, but it’s iPad vs. PC, and the Mac simply fills in the gap in a Post-PC era. I believe that tech CEOs who believe otherwise are doomed.

This line of reasoning means that competitors who underestimate the ability of the iPad to supersede the PC are delusional. And it also means that if they spend their time designing PCs, namely Ultrabooks, to compete against the MacBooks, then they’re doubly delusional.

I want bring your attention to the best article I’ve seen in a long time that explains the tablet phenomena. Along the way, I want to celebrate this article by John Kirk and talk about it without, hopefully, diverting from its scope and clarity. The article is: “The PC is the Titanic and the Tablet is the Iceberg. Any Questions?

It’s a longish article, but that’s part of its greatness because the list of ways that the tablet exerts its advanced utility over the typical PC is long. In fact, as you go through the article, you’ll appreciate why it is so long, almost 2400 words. But there is a boatload of thought and wisdom there. My own essay here is meant only to amplify, expound, and whet your appetite.

Here’s just one excerpt.

The bulk of the iceberg that destroyed the Titanic lay beneath the surface of the waters, beneath the vision of the lookouts, beneath the ship’s waterline. Similarly, the bulk of the tasks that the Tablet excels at, lies beneath the PC’s level of awareness, beneath the PC’s contemptuous gaze, beneath the PC’s areas of expertise and far, far below it’s area of competence. The PC will not lose in a fair fight, anymore than the Titanic lost in a fair fight. Instead, the Tablet will hit the PC where the PC is weakest – below it’s metaphorical waterline.”

Analyst predictions make it fairly clear that the classic tablet, inspired and led by the iPad, will someday swamp the PC sales. PCs and Macs will be used for special work, as needed: Servers, development, CAD, high performance computing, and so on. But the growth and vitality of the classic PC will be gone. The PC makers should plan on making the PC an adjunct to their line for scientists, designers, IT staff and developers.

And, as I suggested, the war is no longer Mac vs. PC, but iPad vs. PC, and that leaves Apple free to develop the vision of the MacBooks, unshackled by historical competition. I’m on the lookout for that curve ball by Apple in the near future. Maybe there’s more to iOS-ification than meets the eye.

Let Me Count the Ways

Once you read Mr. Kirk’s extensive list of the ways iPads open up new ways of interacting with a computer, you’ll have a better understanding of how the PC has limits, and is at the end of its evolution — while the tablet platform is open ended. We haven’t even begun to exploit the full capabilities of the tablet platform — as envisioned by Apple.

Again, here’s a link to the article.

Deck Chairs

Of course, if you believe that Windows is forever, and that a tablet should really be a PC in disguise, there are some deck chairs on your ship to keep you occupied with rearrangements.

Tech News Debris

There was very little in the way of deep, off-beat technical news this week. Briefly, I’ll direct your attention to some lighter stuff.


Image Credits: Karate and Deck Chairs: Shutterstock. PC vs Mac: Apple.


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The Mac No Longer Competes Against the PC

Which is why Microsoft’s drive for Windows everywhere is rather pathetic. They’re building the best piston engine they ever have while the rest of the world is switching to jets.

Gareth Harris

On target, John. You are singing my song as well you know.

One important implication about the rise of mobile computing devices is still being missed: The workstation role now becomes more indispensable, not less. That is why Apple needs to do more than warm over the Mac Pro or let it fade. Instead, it needs to become prominent again and more tailored to developers, scientists, engineers and media professionals.


You wrote this article on an iPad, right?


Article idea: switch to iPad for a month…


Honestly, I think any debate on this topic is largely about semantics. What’s a tablet and what’s a PC? The device that “kills” the PC will blur that line. It will be a little between a modern tablet and a modern PC. I imagine it will have more in common with the PC—though even if we agreed upon all the facts of this future device, we might have different opinions on that.

The thing is, tablets still suck for a great many tasks, and not just niche tasks, but tasks nearly everyone does, like writing. You can get a keyboard and a stand for your tablet, yes, but then already it doesn’t look like a tablet so much anymore, but an adaptable laptop. The tablet still needs to take a few more steps in that direction—in both hardware and software—before it can kill anything. At the same time, PC software and hardware will become more and more tablet-like. And at that point it won’t be so much replacing the PC as becoming the PC.

Will it mean the end of OS X? Yes. And that makes me sad, in a way, but at the same time, with Lion and Mountain Lion the line is already so blurry that again, it seems like a matter of semantics. With each update, each OS becomes more like the other. Whether you call it iOS or OS X, the convergence is rapidly approaching. Apple has been clearly transitioning from OS X for a long time. Long before Lion, even before the switch to Intel.


I’m sorry I have to disagree.  Let me know how the iPad works for typing a full document.  Now we distribute iPad’s in the enterprise, but they are more niche tools when you are out.  If you have to do real work you get out your laptop.  I see it every day all day.  The people say their iPad can replace their laptop, really are not doing work on their iPad.  Edit that photo, enter into a spreadsheet, connect to a 3rd party app with that spreadsheet etc.  There are still too many areas, where a real laptop is needed.  Now for consumption and LIGHT data entry it cannot be beat.  Code a web page on a iPad - and yes I have both.  You are talking also about an aging population.  Sorry blind one sided article.  we have 4000 users in our Org so I see every form.  The hybrid that is done well will be the winner.  Now who produces time will tell.


“, inspired and led by the iPad, ”  invented and delivered by Microsoft improved and bettered by the iPad.

dan farrand

I have an iPad II.  I rarely use it.

As both Apple and Microsoft push their desktops in directions that take features away, I am, for the first time, looking more seriously at Linux and embracing the idea of placing a higher value of controlling my own destiny rather than accept the dubious judgements of corporate goofs.

The sad facts are for apple and msft that in many cases I am better served with less change in the OS and applications.



Great article. Spot on analysis from you and John Kirk. His analogies about the iceberg and what lies above, at and below the waterline are brilliant - and below the radar of most of the industry and industry clients (that would be us, the user base). And that simply is because most revolutions, at least the ones that are sustainable and ultimately result in the greatest and most lasting change, are inauspicious in their beginning. If the status quo comprehended the threat level, they would have acted to intercept and kill the revolutionaries and their heretical vision. When it is organic in its growth, and by definition, has an embryonic beginning, not only does it not look threatening (that embryo - a threat to me - really???) they fail to appreciate that this is not the final form, nor could they guess the phenotypic expression of that adult form, even if they knew that the embryonic one wasn’t it.

No wonder that the likes of Dell and MS, not to mention the rank and file of the user community, are dismissive; although in fairness, I think MS have finally come around to appreciate the threat - they simply lack the vision to appreciate the nature of the threat, and therefore, how best to respond.

This brings up a complementary point about revolutions. Most attempted revolutions fail because the would-be revolutionaries end up recreating the very systems they sought to overthrow. They’ve simply swapped the personalities, the titles, maybe the flag and the outward accoutrements of power, but the substance is the same (e.g. since the overthrow Nicholas II, every leader in Russia, including Putin, has been a Tsar in everything but name. The new aristocracy are the newly wealthy oligarchs, and before them, the Central Committee members of the Politburo, who depend on, and do not challenge, the Tsar. Failed revolution. Prove otherwise).  Enter the Surface - MS’s would be dragon. As Kirk points out in an earlier piece, this is simply a new rendering of the notebook computer. What poses as a tablet comes with a keyboard, a stylus, a kickstand and trackpad. That sounds like a notebook, not a tablet.

In medicine, with reference to often difficult diagnoses, we say, ‘If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks likes a duck and flies like a duck, it’s probably a duck’. This is not even a difficult diagnosis. MS have responded to the tablet revolution with - a notebook; except this one can be disassembled to its component parts. Not only is the Surface not a dragon, to follow on the riff above, it’s not even a lizard. That doesn’t mean it won’t sell. I think it will, but only to the same clientele who today hold contempt for the tablet and all that it represents, and compare it unfavourably to the PC by pointing out all the things that the PC can do that the tablet cannot - rather than the other round. Look at all the things the tablet can already do that the PC never has - and it’s just an embryo.

That thought, alone, should make a non-Apple CEO’s blood run cold. I think that for the past few weeks, it’s kept Ballmer awake at night, but I don’t think it’s yet begun to inflict the level of pain that it will once he and MS really grasp how badly they’ve misunderstood the revolution. We could be looking at an outbreak of myocardial infarcts in Redmond in the not-too-distant future.  Because as the true prowess of the tablet comes into its own, as an integral part of a post-PC era (of which the tablet itself is but an integral, albeit important, part) anything that cannot perform as a tablet will be relegated to a different niche, or even to the dustbin if it does nothing particularly well (Et tu, Surface?). Just think about some of the boxy and non-aerodynamic designs and materials used to construct some of the early models of ‘flying machines’ (many of which do not qualify as ‘aero’-planes). Only those models that can perform under true aerodynamic constraints have survived.

In the meantime, to the casual observer, just like the first day of the new Millennium looks pretty much like the last century just yesterday, it is no less a new age; its distinct features just haven?t unfolded yet. Give it time.

Many thanks for the early Saturday morning diversion. Much appreciated.

@wab95... I'm sorry I don't see it

I work in the enterprise and I volunteer for two organizations.  Your blinded onesided view is missing a gap in the iPad being able to do real heads down work.  It is really limited to consumption and light editing.  It is an AWESOME delivery tool (yes I own one), but to say it’s the iceberg is silly, and showing lack of navigation.  To have a great consumption device AND be able to perform work when needed is awesome.  These comments smack of the same knee-pad love for the netbooks.  WHen the “ultrabook” came along and provide a real experience - what happened to the netbook…exactly.  It’s early in this and anyone stupid enough to count MS out well - they are no longer in business.  MS and hardware vendor created the tablet categroy… Apple massively improved it, MS is learning from that as are other people.  I think if it’s a choice between three devices (phone, tablet and laptop) and you can have two in one (assumed it’s with tolerances of tablet) then the table alone gets chucked.  To ignore this is ignorance.  And even Apple is not - look at the new Macbooks.  They realize, there is a convergence coming.


Kind of wonder why the power users always talk about editing a photo in photoshop and then using the spreadsheet and then throw in writing a document.

The touch screen tablet is still in the nascent stage whereas the PC has been in existence for 30 yearsays.Give it time and it will catch up in the capabilities of the PC and it is only a matter of time.

Btw I at least 60 percent of the users are not power users and prefer to surf the web, answer email and the such which the tablet is very capable of the 10” ones.

Yes there will be 1 PC in the homes but the rest with be iPads and if you like tablets.


They power users do that, but it’s interesting the defensive nature of the people that have bought one.  I have 4 powerful desktop, Dell Laptop, and Macbook Pro Early 2011 (16 Gig RAM 1 Gig Video Hi-Res screen) and I have a iPad.  My son has an iPad for school.  So basically I bought him a iPad 3. And being a IT for nearly 30 years now I sat back and watched him it was interesting.  If it was a game book or research he uses the iPad but if he has to do heads down work or serious work he goes to his desktop.  So the argument is most people will not need a laptop or computer.  That’s fine, but I have watched salesman to mothers try to type and do work on their iPads and they struggle and it takes twice as long.  But by God they paid $700 for the darn thing they are going to use it.  That’s just an observation but it is interesting.  My comment is people are poo-pooing the hybrid device like the Surface (primarily because it’s MS which is stupid) and my observations with a large number of people is - that would be 1st choice work if done right, be-it MS or anyone else.  But if tablets catch up with the PC won’t it be a ... PC?  Just a different interface.  I would argue with the generations coming in that 60% are now power users.


I never thought I’d see the day where writing a letter or a paper was considered something only “power users” do.

Yes, tablets will evolve. But like I said before, by the time they evolve to the point where they can replace PCs, they’ll have as much in common with today’s PCs as today’s tablets.

To say the tablet will kill the PC is sort of like saying OS X killed the Mac.



Interestingly enough, over at ZDNet, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has a similar take on Apple vs. PCs, in an article on Ultrabooks. In it, he states:

And this, in a nutshell, is the whole problem with Ultrabooks. Their entire existence is down to Apple’s success with similar devices. {MRM note: MacBook Air.} The iPod didn’t carve out a market for other MP3 players, and the success of the iPad was no proof that there was a mass market for tablets in general. History shows us that it’s dangerous to assume that the popularity of thin-and-light notebooks with an Apple logo on the lid is proof of a wider market for similar devices powered by Windows.

Apple seems to operate in a market separate to that of the PC, but it seems that even the big PC players have still to grasp this fully.

ZDNet Link

As for the argument regarding iPads vs. PCs, I think what some of the commenters here are missing is that no one is saying the iPad is going to replace a PC. I build websites and use Adobe Creative Suite, and there’s no way an iPad is going to replace my desktop Mac for those tasks. The point is: Tablets like the iPad will have different uses than PCs, and those uses will by far outnumber what uses a PC can be used for.

Time will tell. Microsoft is betting that people want a tablet to be a PC, while Apple is betting that people want a tablet to be a tablet. Meanwhile, it is becoming more and more apparent that Apple is really becoming a market all unto itself.

John Martellaro

mrmwebmax: Mr. Kingsley-Hughes makes a great point. Apple envy can be a poisoned Apple for other companies.



Mr. Kingsley-Hughes makes a great point. Apple envy can be a poisoned Apple for other companies.

Too true. One has to wonder just how much money has been lost by the likes of HP and RIM, and others, chasing after the iPad. Or Microsoft with the Zune disaster. (Of course, they could afford that….)


Or Microsoft with the Zune disaster. (Of course, they could afford that?.)

That is true but you know they were good devices.  My daughter (hates Apple products) still has one it’s 80Gig and the thing is great, everyone else in the house has iTouch or iPhone.  The Zune software is IMO still the best out there.  It’s extremely clean easy to use and fast and works with all devices.  I would love to use that on my iTouch or iPhone - iTunes is HORRIBLE, they really need to clean that up.


What?s a tablet and what?s a PC? The device that ?kills? the PC will blur that line. It will be a little between a modern tablet and a modern PC. I imagine it will have more in common with the PC?

I think that is exactly what is happening, and we are in the early stages.  While MS is the “first” out of the gate so to speak, I believe in the bowls of Apple, they are heading the same way.  and the Merging of iOS and OS X is a clear hint at that.


As for the argument regarding iPads vs. PCs, I think what some of the commenters here are missing is that no one is saying the iPad is going to replace a PC.

Quite right, mrmwebax. They do different things.

Rather, what many tech pundits have pointed out, including John Kirk, is that for many of the tasks for which we have historically used PCs, they are overpowered, and these same tasks can be done, often easier, with another tool. But that’s only the beginning; there are all the tasks we’ve not thought of, because PCs were not suited to them.

@wab…I’m sorry…:
Don’t be. Most people, including educated professionals not unlike yourself, saw nothing in PCs that suggested they’d become a commonplace tool in the home, including a cousin of mine who, at the time, ran the IT department for one of the world’s largest universities. To him, a real computer was a UNIX mainframe, and he could not imagine how, what was then called a ‘microcomputer’ could ever supplant the mainframe, or be useful in the average home. It took years before the utility of the PC became commonly appreciated, and in fairness, developed the capacity to be more useful. The issue was never that the PC was going to replace the mainframe (it still hasn’t), but fill a niche the mainframe never could - your living room and personal office, and via notebooks, become a portable workstation.

The same is true for the tablet. While I accept that for some, it is ‘limited to consumption and light editing’, as you suggest, I argue that this is user-specific. I just returned from an international conference in which I took only my iPad as a work device. I was able to do essentially everything I would have done with my MBP, including access data files on my hard drive, via SugarSync, analyse data and format it for graphical display, look up scientific citations during the conference, and build presentations around them in Keynote, form and organise an international team of scientists and send them the outline of a proposal (with those citations), and conduct an international video conference call - all on my iPad. That does not include the menial tasks, of course, like email, tracking monetary transactions, changing hotel and plane reservations and booking restaurants - again, on my iPad.

Granted, I could have done all of the above, in some cases like the data analysis, even easier on my MBP, but it is what I could not have done on the MBP that stood out to me. There was no power access in the main conference room. All the notebooks, even the MBAs, began to close up towards the afternoons. Not my iPad. I ran it all day with power to spare. I could take it out into the corridors and share newly formatted data with colleagues onscreen and on the main screen via wifi. More than that, out in the field, I can take the iPad where I would never take my MBP (nor advise most people to go), and even where using my MBP would not be possible, and be productive all day in the absence of electricity. This is only the beginning. As these devices become more capable, not only one-hand use, but hands-free use will become commonplace.

Finally, the issue, in my opinion, is not even PC vs iPad, but the fact that the centre of mass for personal computing has changed. Not only is it not the PC, I would argue that it’s not even the tablet or smartphone, but something more nebulous - the cloud. Leading companies in the industry recognise the potential the cloud creates to provide the individual with the information and data they need anywhere in the world. Like the iPad, the cloud too is only in its infancy; and will only get more robust.

The task is to provide the toolset, both hardware and software, to make harnessing that power and freedom easy and productive. The companies that will prosper in the future are those that will build those solutions around the consumer, and not compel the consumer to conform to the limitations of the solution.

The possibilities are endless, but the tablet, notably the iPad, has ample room to grow.


[quote author=JOHN MARTELLARO] Of course, if you believe that Windows is forever, and that a tablet should really be a PC in disguise, there are some deck chairs on your ship to keep you occupied with rearrangements.

I wish I had $10 for every silly article I have seen that way.  But the hybrid will be a “told you so” when it’s not even close to accurate in the win column.  This is a silly statement, the enterprise and business is too ingrained it will be a loooong drawn out process, where there will be time for a product that will be a hybrd as Mr. Mikuro said above.  The table we see now will not be that in the future.  It will be more PC like with all of the wonder features of a tablet.



But that?s only the beginning; there are all the tasks we?ve not thought of, because PCs were not suited to them.

It’s the concept of “tasks not yet thought of,” exactly, where the power of tablets will be realized.

Show of hands: How many were in high school in the early 1980s? Back then, learning “how to use a computer” meant learning how to write BASIC programs on an Apple II, TRS-80, TI99/4A, Commodore VIC-20, or any of a bunch of similar systems of the day.

Then, in the 1990s, “learning how to use a computer” meant learning how to use Windows, Excel, Word, and other productivity applications. The paradigm had shifted: Rather than program a computer, users were using computers for accomplishing real-world tasks. That everyone in an office would be using a computer probably wasn’t even on the radar of most people in the early 80s.

Likewise, who in the early 90s would imagine that all of our music, movies, and TV shows would one day be managed, purchased, and “consumed” (the new buzzword) on computers?

Thus, the paradigm has gone from hobbyist/programmer to office productivity user to content consumption consumer. The paradigm is a moving target. It doesn’t stand still. And tablets will open up new avenues of use not yet imagined, just as the thought of using Google and iTunes on a Mac would have been way beyond the imagination of a high school kid banging out BASIC code back in 1983.


Likewise, who in the early 90s would imagine that all of our music, movies, and TV shows would one day be managed, purchased, and ?consumed? (the new buzzword) on computers?

I did. In 1992. Sadly, outside of IRC channels and Usenet, no one else really had a clue. Certainly not the MPAA or RIAA…


I don’t think so. Mac sales are at record levels and so is the Mac usage levels. Macs are still very relevant. And while Mac usage and sales are up, PC usage and sales are way down. The iPad is good in many ways but still is limited and I prefer my Mac over the iPad and wouldn’t touch a virus infected PC ever. Windows 8 is trying to hard to be everything for every device and will fail. MS is also hurting its own customers by having no upgrade path for current Windows phone users.


Mac may not be competing with the PC. But Microsfot do feel the competetion heat from Apple’s Mac. They try to modify their Windows the way OS X are. Apple due to its unique hardware configuration & OS X platform give oppurtunity to others modify their computers. And not only Macs but ipads too are being copied heavly.

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