Long Live the PC!


There has been a lot of buzz lately about the iPhone replacing the PC. Here’s one from my buddy, Harry McCracken. The owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, wrote a piece as well. There is certainly a lot of buzz and hype about the iPhone, but as a practical matter, the iPhone is nowhere near able to significantly encroach onto the venerable PC’s territory. As I write this, I am thinking of all my friends that have iPhones, and the look of pride on their face. I am not trying to rain on that parade, I just honestly do not think of the iPhone in the same category as the PC. Here’s why.


I’ll use a simple example. Can one print to a printer from an iPhone? The answer is a very qualified yes. Last December, HP announced a new iPhone application that allows you to print a photo from an HP printer on your network. Even an old PC guy like me thinks that is a very cool application, but now we have to take this in context. This is one printer maker (HP) can print in just one application (photos). The reality is that the PC has been printing for over 30 years, so let’s just say the PC has a little head start in this area.

But that’s just the beginning. The PC has a myriad of devices that make our PC more functional or easier to use. Things such as scanners, thumb print readers, business card readers, and the list goes on forever. Don’t get me wrong, ultimately, the iPhone will support all of these devices, but for now, they are way behind the curve, and therefore does not pose an immediate threat to the PC.


The business world is a Windows centric world. The reason has nothing to do with the merits of Microsoft versus Apple versus Linux, but the fact is that the vast majority of business applications are written in Windows. In order for the iPhone to effectively compete with Windows, all of these applications one by one would have to migrated from Windows to the iPhone. That’s just not going to happen.

There is one trend that greatly helps the iPhone, and that is cloud computing. Corporate America is in the process of moving many of its applications into the cloud, or better put, centered around the internet, as opposed to the PC. This transition will take many many years, but after it is done, it will put the iPhone on similar footing as the PC.

Web Applications

Think back 10 years on what a web page looked like in 1999. Now think about a web page today. In 1999, it was mostly text based, and many developers avoided using images due to concerns related to page load times and browser memory restrictions. That’s right, when we introduced PC Pitstop 10 years ago, we tried to avoid using images on web pages. Today, images and video are almost mandatory for a successful web site.

Let’s use a simple example, YouTube videos. Have you ever noticed when you watch a YouTube video, you have the ability to stop the video and go back and rewatch segments of the video? The reason why this is possible is because YouTube is buffering the entire video into memory as you watch it. The longer the video, the more memory YouTube needs. The point is that YouTube assumes it has massive memory available, like gigabytes of memory. Or more to the point, YouTube is assuming that the client is a PC and not an iPhone.

I’m not saying that iPhone cannot stream videos, it can. My point is that the web is built around an assumption of a PC architecture with large amounts of processing power and memory. Furthermore, as time goes on, these new applications will place more demands on the host computer, not less. We are hearing that Adobe will ultimately make PhotoShop available on the web. Perhaps Microsoft will make Office available too. Can you imagine writing a ton of Excel macros for an iPhone? Why is it that we write Excel macros? Most of the time it is to save a little time.

The final take away is that the web is built around the PC. As new applications come to market, such as new online applications or new games, they will all assume a PC is the client.


A good analogy is the introduction of the first IBM PC in 1981. At the time, some pundits thought that the IBM PC was a threat to the huge and massively expensive IBM mainframes. Certainly in retrospect, it is true. The PC has revolutionalized how the world computes. However, the reality is that the impact of the PC on the mainframe world took decades to develop.

I believe the same for the iPhone, but it will take a long time to unfold. Please don’t misinterpret this piece as bashing the iPhone. In fact, I am a fan. I just don’t see it having a big impact on the PC universe in the short term. Long live the PC.

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31 thoughts on “Long Live the PC!”

  1. Let’s be practical here. The I-Phone is tied to one carrier: AT&T. Nobody wants to go back to the monopoly communications situation prior to 1984, and nobody wants just a single wireless carrier operating in the United States. Furthermore, there are places where other carriers including Verizon and Sprint have decent coverage and AT&T does not.

    Additionally, the I-Phone has a fixed amount of memory — many other “SmartPhones” have micro SD card capability and memory is limited only by the technological size limitations of those cards. Furthermore, the cards may be swapped out.

    Windows Mobile-based smartphones, such as my HTC TouchPro from Sprint, have Microsoft office capabilities. My TouchPro responds to finger flicks just as well as an I-Phone, and internal technology senses the position of the phone and adjusts the display the same way. It handles streaming video extremely well from You-Tube and other services, far better than the response of an I-Phone.

    Furthermore, I can replace the phone battery myself.

    The real issue out there is applications, but the carrier issue and memory issue, in my opinion, are the overriding factors.

    Let’s face it. AT&T is a marketing juggernaut, and with their combined marketing dollars with Apple’s marketing dollars, they’ve hyped the heck out of I-Phone. Articles like this simply help AT&T do its job of maximizing its share of wireless voice and data traffic. It isn’t about the phone. It’s about the recurring monthly revenue to AT&T. That phone will NEVER have full PC capabilities.

  2. For the aging population at least the diminutive iPod style of computing hasn’t a chance in the mainstream. Oh for the luxury of a large screen, and a keyboard too, even for cloud computing.

  3. Get an n95. It’s got everything the iphone has, but also looks cooler and doesn’t get scratched. I find smartphones useful for web on the move, but nothing is going to outdo my pc, I CAN UPGRADE IT.

  4. To be able to carry as much computing power in one’s pocket as possible..isn’t that every computer geek’s dream? To be able to connect to a virtual world at whim..isn’t science fact closer to sci-fi than it ever was? The PC itself is on a shrinking journey but we will have to accept certain changes to the familiar setup and then again,will it still be able to carry out ALL the functions? I can envisage an iPhone-size device projecting both keyboard and nice 32″ screen display on flat surfaces. We could even get 3D images eventually. Maybe we would need some kind of glove for a mouse, though, especially for editing pics or drawing. I believe these technologies are already emerging. We’ll have to do away with CDs, DVDs and disc hard drives and switch exclusively to something like microSD.What about gaming? Can a tiny videocard be developed with enough power as the ones in your pc? I think that at the end of the day, it is the consumer who will decide the fate of the PC. I’m sure there are people who would never part with their beautiful macho-monster brimming with the best specs whatever the computing power of the iphone. I compare this to energy efficiency in transport. Would you change your little gas-guzzling roadster for an ultra-efficient electric bicycle that gets you from A to B just as quickly? Probably not although you may consider keeping both. Iphone is small but at least to some people,maybe size wouldn’t matter that much after all. Someone mentioned a computer implanted in the brain. Even if it is perfectly safe, do we really want to get that intimate with computers? Again, this is a matter for the consumer.

  5. If there are monitor glasses or somthing similar I’ll gladly turn to iphones provided that their processors are equivilant to that of a pc. What I’m saying is that word process is entirely different from running servers, the latest games or heavy 3D programming. As long as their memory, processors, and graphics cards are so low I won’t be totally switching over. Their screens are too small for most anything.

  6. The IPhone or similar devices will continue to increase in complexity, and if i remember right there’s a pair of monitor glasses out there already it was marketed by sharper image a couple years ago. (yea before they went belly up) wireless is getting better so that’s taken care of. But personally I’m all for the cyborg idea. just plug me in doc. I’ll view that hi def movie on my internal video screen takes up my whole field of view when i turn it on. one day we can look forward to just being our iphones and pc’s all in one as part of ourselves. would love to live long enough to see that. but that is the issue it isn’t going to happen tomorrow.

  7. If you combine the iPhone with games, and you could have a different sort of problem! I am not sure that the PC will disappear altogether, but it may become a very different sort of beast.

  8. *sighs* I’m glad Chengrob is being sensible about an I-item not being able to replace a PC/Laptop. However, when he mentioned how much websites have changed over the years, I felt sad. There’s way too much media on websites these days. I don’t even care for the excessive images. Its still shocking that sometimes I’ll come across a flash-rich or java-rich site. The thing I hate about both formats is that unlike website text, I can’t zoom nor magnify them so they’ll be larger in size.

    I feel the more advanced computers get, the more inaccessible they’ll become. The day I can’t get a one-core lightweight laptop with Windows XP or Linux is the day I buy a “D. Small Machine” that’s being made and sold for those that want more function rather than eye-candy. I agree with Steve Lee. I love portability and light weight for all the computing and internetting I enjoy that makes my life enriched, but I won’t buy something that has too small of a screen.

    So far, I only found one cellphone that has HUGE print and icons on its small screen, and that’s the candybar model in 7-11’s lineup of prepaid cellphones. I’m intending to go for that and it has high contrast black body with white text. I hope it has loud volume, too. Its sad that its not just technology; Canada has so much less accessibility than the USA does, so some of us struggle more than others.

  9. I think the whole idea of iPhones replacing PC’s is absurd. It is like saying the microwave is going to replace the stove. Sure there is some crossover in function, but the two fill significantly separate niches. Compact devices will become more powerful, but they won’t substitute functions such as professional photo editing, sound mixing, writing, and serious gaming. Meanwhile as PC’s become more powerful they will be gaining capabilities such as virtual reality which won’t be cramped into a phone in the foreseeable future.

  10. One of the more depressing aspects is the constant decrease in quality of media replay. Until capacity and processing can do full scale audio and video without compression losses and artifacts we will be watching and listening to ever worsening entertainment reproduction. I can see Iphone getting connectivity with TV’s and everyone marveling at how good the picture and sound is while not bothering to actually compare to a decent source. Same with music, if you only listen to headphones, an Iphone / Ipod is OK but it has neither the resolution nor flexibility of CD formats. Lossless is a misnomer and another attempt to sell low quality to the masses.

  11. Why is it that no one talks about the AT&T Tilt? In my opinion, it is years ahead of the iPhone, running a close second to the pc. When in the field, I usually leave my notebook at home and conduct all my computing on my Tilt.

  12. The IPhone has it’s advantages and disadvantages, so does the computer. Size is one. There will be a need for both. The Iphone gives you the advantage of putting a computer in your pocket instead of carrying around a piece of luggage. Advancements in the Iphone have will continue to close the gap on this debate. Most arguments center around the keyboard. With the improvements in voice technology it is becoming more evident that the keyboard will be gone soon anyway.

  13. That’s a fairly absurd comment at this point. While eventually I think something like this (although probably not an apple product due to their proprietary software) will eventually be where we are headed, it is decades away. Even so, the biggest challenges will be screens that are mobile, but also large. The small screen just is not comfortable to work on. Further, on the entertainment end, it is very difficult to play games or watch movies on something so small. Obviously, you would probably have a work station, similar to what many use for laptops. However, it is interesting to point out that even with the prevalence of laptaps, desktop units are still widely used, primary for more impressive hardware.

    The iPhone is “neat” but until some serious advances in technology come along it, nor its competitors will be able to replace the PC.

  14. Comparing an Iphone to a PC is like comparing Apples and Oranges (no pun intended). It is a complemetary device in todays technology centric world. Rims Blackberry still holds reign in the corporate to PDA market. In addition, at present you are also at the mercy of the dubious connection quality of ATT. Great in some places, bad in others.

  15. Iphones and their ilk are basically toys. I have a wabsite that is several thousand pages long, with batches of videos, etc. I’m going to creeate such a Site with a thumbwheel or whatever? Phones are for playing. PC’s are for working. I doubt if that will ever really change. They wioll both have descendents as time goes by, but I figure they’ll both be around in one form or another for a long time.

    @shogan! Welcome to the world of the Borg! Not in my lifetime I hope, or not me that’s for sure!

    I wonder how a phone would make out converting a 2 GB AVI to an FLV? Or pulling in a 4 GB torrent?

  16. Hi. Even the thought of an iPhone replacing a PC is silly. They have there own functions. I lovey iPhone but it’s my phone. I love my PC but it’s my PC. I doubt there ever will be a time were that’s changes. Although I am lying in bed typing this on my iPhone.

  17. I really don’t think that we will either lose the PC nor become totally dependent upon another device. Psion came and went with a whimper, but it was great technology, other platforms will begin to emerge that enhance the use of the desktop, laptop, handheld and mainframe, but these will only cause things to move over a bit, not to go away, until the demand has dropped considerably. Way too many PC’s in the world, and still catching fire in some parts, to be discarded unilaterally. Nope don’t think so, not yet, at least.

  18. You just can’t get the same quality of porn on an iphone that you can on your laptop and its nowhere near as clear.
    Now before you all call me a sad pervo just think about how much porn there is on the internet and how many people view it.

    No wonder i need a 19″ monitor and thick glasses

  19. Oh goody! Now the out of control teen girls can send 3 times as many text messages and also be a twit on twitter at the same time.

    Ha Ha! I seriously doubt the PC is going anywhere for a long time. Hasn’t the PC just only begun being the king of the world?

  20. Gene De Lorenzo

    I would like to use my Iphone as a computer as much as I enjoy watching High Density wide-screen movies on my PC.

  21. In the end there will always be a place for small devices and gadgets like the iphone. There is a threshhold to miniature size and functionality butd hese devices will all end up in the garage net to your Grand Dad’s CB radio. The PC or some such reincarnation will be of practical size and value and will always be of more import.

  22. Strong points about the business-wise side of things, but I’ve been thinking more along the reasons -I- use a PC. Primarily, to play computer games. I doubt the iPhone will ever be able to have as much control over a computer game as a PC will – not to mention the what, 3″ screen (doubt it’ll ever get much bigger than that, for practical reasons), will never compete to my (already outsized) 22″ widescreen monitor.

    Then there’s videos. Oh sure, you can watch videos on iPhones… and I’m sure eventually you’ll be able to fit terabytes of videos on an iPhone like you can a PC… but then it comes back to the screen size issue. I can’t set an iPhone on my desk and lay in bed with my partner watching Stargate… I need a large screen to see from across the room.

    Last, but certainly not least – I’m in the film industry, that requires me to use a PC (or a Mac, same difference in this argument) to capture and edit movies.
    Can you imagine say, Rocky VII, or Shrek V being edited on an iPhone? Even a short film for a TAFE Film Course? Good lord no. Even the most minimal systems want you to have +2GB of memory, +500GB of free space and two monitors.

    iPhone replacing the PC? Not on yer life!

  23. Me being a few years past my very best and therefore not too good in the eyesight area, would be most lost if we didn’t have the good old PC with a 19″ screen and full size keyboard to play with, so I think that the PC has years ahead of it yet. Remember us oldies.

  24. First off you say I-phone this and I-phone that. Are you forgetting other manufactures like Palm and the other smart phones on the market? Not everyone wants to be stuck with AT&T ffor their wireless service. Some of the other wireless services have tried to emulate Nextels “Direct Connect”. Both Verizon and AT&T tried to make it happen and now you barely hear about it. There are applications that are not compattable with the I-phone. Plus I am not very fond of Apple.

  25. Not anytime soon.
    iPhone and other “Smart Phones” are great, but are in no way close to a computer.
    Current wireless limits will see to that, but there is also screen realestate that cannot be matched by *ANY* phone.

    Phone for phone calls.
    Laptop for real mobile computing.

  26. At some point, probably after I’m dead, the PC and iPhone like device will merge. Some of each will remain, but this is driven more by greed than need. The PC and the iPhone both have their good points as far as meeting a need, however, most of the ‘add-ons’ are just more crap to sell the consumer.

  27. @shogan

    Yeah, good luck with that – I wouldn’t hold your breath.

    And are you seriously saying you’d undergo surgery just to avoid having to push a few buttons on your mobe, or use voice-dialing? WTF?

  28. You forgot to talk about the major difference between an iPhone and a PC: size. If you really want to see a picture, or edit it, or see what the document you’re writing looks like, you need a much bigger screen than you’ll ever find on an iPhone. And if you really want to key things in–more than a few words–you need a keyboard, not a thumb exerciser.

  29. I’m with McCracken and lots of others on this. His only mistake is not following his own rule. 2014 is pushing it a little.

    I don’t feel we’re that far off form having computers implanted and doing away with external hardware completely. Why use external hardware when I can just repeat a number to myself and be connected and talking without external hardware. I’m thinking 2020 but I’m a little worried about the size of the battery packs and I can only think of one place big enough for a wide screen.

  30. I think these people are amusing at the least Rob.

    tell your buddy I have access to a pile of RedSox hats, and I will even pour some ketchup on that pile for him, when he is ready to eat them.

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