Are mobile devices on par with computers?


Just the other day, Benedict Evans posted a couple of graphs that showed Apple’s increasing success in the “Computing Device” space, and Microsoft’s declining share in that same category. The point of these charts seemed to be that Apple is outselling Microsoft in the arena of computing devices. Whether or not the chart actually shows Apple outselling Microsoft is up for some debate. But that’s not why I’m writing this today. The chart reiterated a point that I can’t quite come to terms with by making a rather subjective and in my opinion inaccurate comparison. The mobile versus computer debate is far from over.

Now, I respect Apple as a company. They are practically printing their own money these days. Which isn’t to say that Microsoft isn’t. They’ve both got a few extra bucks laying around the house and good for them. I could spend all day arguing with you about whether or not Apple is out selling Microsoft, what it means for the industry, yadda yadda. But the point that I’d like to examine here is whether or not mobile devices can compare with computers.

iphone abacusShow me a study…

The graphs were titled with the relatively vague “Computing Devices” label. This includes smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. This is a pretty broad category and one could argue that calculators, slide rules, and abacuses could also be tossed into that category as well. If so, I think those three probably outsold iPads and PCs (they were around for thousands of years after all) but they had a weak app ecosystem and died out anyway. Couldn’t even run Angry Birds. Can you believe that ancient society was built on those things? Sheesh.

But that circles back to the point where we have to ask ourselves if smart phones and tablets have caught up to computers.

ipad_bluetooth_keyboard_caseYes and no

In some respects, the answer is yes. My phone is realistically (and kinda sadly) just as powerful as my desktop computer at home. Aside from hard disk space, they almost match spec for spec. Of course, my computer is also depressingly old, but anyway. Even the screen resolution is catching up to my PC’s monitor. So is it a computing device? Sure.

But in my world, there’s too much compromise to call it a “computer”. I won’t likely be productive on an iPad or other tablet for quite some time. I have said in the past, and I maintain my position that I don’t really want another tablet unless it replaces my laptop. I have bad word to do, people. The people I know have bad word to do. Everyone has bad word to do. You probably have bad word to do too. I know that my bad word is not getting done on a tablet. I’m not sitting on this train writing an editorial on an iPad. I barely write emails on my iPad. If I am writing more than a few sentences, I’ll wait until I get to a computer.

angry grumpy old man shaking his fist at the worldShaking Fist

Maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe kids growing up today are going to grow up with glass keyboards and a one-app-at-a-time mentality. Maybe by the time my seven-year-old goes to college, a tablet will be the new laptop and something else will be the new tablet. But until we all own flying DeLoreans, we need to talk about today, and today, PC’s are in the show, and tablets are still in Triple-A.

Look, mobile devices are great. It is insane what we all carry around in our pockets and backpacks. I wouldn’t be writing for this website if I wasn’t crazy obsessed with these things. But even I am typing this editorial on a laptop, not a tablet. Now it’s true, that’s mainly because I started this on a train and try as I might, I can’t type on a Surface on the train.

Still not there

But they are not computers. I need to have multiple windows and more screen space and a keyboard. I’m old school like that. Plus ARM processors still aren’t as capable as their x86 brethren. This is why “Photoshop Touch” exists. That’s not to say there aren’t good options out there. There are. But they’re not Photoshop, nor can they be Photoshop. This is why sound editors and graphic artists and mobile technology news writers carry around laptops, not iPads.

child-with-ipadThe needs of the many…

Some people don’t have to do Photoshop, or news writing, and I welcome them to use their iPads to crush candies and check in places and Netflix ‘til they can’t Netflix no more. Go for it. I’ve got nothing against that. Some day, those devices will be the must-have every day productivity machines that desktops and laptops are today. But today is not that day. So if the message here is that Apple is selling more tablets than Microsoft, well duh. That ain’t exactly breaking news. But in the real world where people have stuff to do here and now, Apple is bringing a gun to a tank fight. That is just my opinion of course.

baseketball borgnineMaybe I’m just a crotchety old man (of 37 years) who is cursing all you damn kids with your loud music and your Dan Fogelberg. Maybe I did have to walk 18 miles to school every morning in six foot deep snow, uphill both ways. But there is a line in the sand between computers and tablets/smartphones that has not been crossed yet, emphasis on the word yet. They will some day, and it’ll be great. Lord knows I’d love my backpack to be two pounds lighter. But in today’s world, people still need computers, not “Computing devices”.

Not out of the woods

I’m not saying Microsoft is doing great or even trending in the right direction – far from it. But I am saying that lumping iPhones and Desktop computers in the same category is not justified, not yet. It’s like comparing tractor-trailers to motorcycles because they both go vroom. I think both Harley Davidson and Peterbilt would have something to say about that.

So what do you think, dear reader? Are tablets just as good as computers? Is the argument valid? Sound off in the comments below and let us know what you think. But if you don’t want to, and if you’re done reading this you can go ahead and put down the tablet, because I’m sure you have bad word to do.



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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs.Read more about Adam Doud!