In an article for Time.com published this week, Harry McCracken states that we need a new definition of ‘PC’. While writing the article McCracken asked on Twitter, “What is a PC?” Because it relates to what I am writing about here, I have been mulling the question in my mind all week. It seems to me that the real answer lies in a common definition of what is computing.
I have a formulaic definition for personal computing. It is:
personal computing = hardware + software (apps) + Internet + intelligence
McCracken’s definition is that a PC:
runs apps AND is a general purpose device AND is designed for use by one person at a time AND can be of any size
The important point being made here by McCracken I think is that personal computing is not about what a device can do nor its form factor, but rather how much a user can do with it. Games running on gaming consoles are definitely a form of computing, and game consoles are definitely computers. Put another way, a PC is hardware than runs software so that it can be used to complete a number of different tasks by a person. No constraints nor requirements are placed on the size or shape of the hardware, it just needs to be capable of being used.
McCracken equates “personal” to a number and emphasizes the general purpose functionality of the device. In principle I don’t disagree with that but I think there is an emerging change of the definition of “personal” from meaning one person using a device at a time to there being something uniquely mine about the device, which is where the Internet + intelligence portion of my formula comes in.
I have not yet seen the type of personalization that I think we are heading towards, but here are a few examples of what I mean. Android 4.X, commonly known as Ice Cream Sandwich, uses facial recognition to automatically detect that a phone is being held by an owner so that it is unlocked. Android also uses speech-to-text translation that enables a person to dictate to their device and have it translated to text. As it is used more by users Google collects information in order to learn how well translation is being done. Siri on iOS also does speech translation to be able to determine what action a user wishes to be performed on the iPhone.
All of the above examples require an Internet connection because servers more powerful than smartphones are used to perform the translation and then send the results back to the smartphone. Intelligence occurs with data being collected on the servers that is then used to improve the translation. In this case the level of intelligence is not yet as sophisticated as imagined by artificial intelligence, but can be seen as a baby step in that direction.
McCracken wrote his article in response to the debate over whether it is right for tablets like the iPad to be included in the count of the number of personal computers sold. Including the iPad in the count makes Apple the number one personal computer company, ironic given that Apple is no longer a computer company.
While I don’t think declaring one company as victor is particularly important, I agree with McCracken’s assertion that when you take into account the evolving, new definition of what is a PC, tablets ought to be counted. For that matter, so should smartphones. All this also affirms that we are not in a Post-PC era, but rather just at the beginning of a new, more real, personal computing era.