Daniel Lyons, the Newsweek tech writer notorious for his Fake Steve Jobs blog, penned an epistolary piece last week (R.I.P., Macintosh) in which he asks and answers the question: “Is Apple ignoring its signature line of computers and laptops? Yup.”

The columnist claims that with the iPhone and the iPad as the Dear Leader’s new pets, Steve Jobs has kicked the Mac to the curb (or kerb for our British readers). Lyons backs his claim with the following evidence: Apple’s 2010 WWDC was focused on the iPhone OS only; there were no Best Applications awards for the Mac, only for iPhone/iPad apps; and, drum roll, the iPhone OS was renamed iOS (the name is licensed from Cisco, just as the iPhone moniker was).

Lyons may be onto something, but in his desperate quest for page views at Newsweek (itself kicked to the curb by its soon former owner, the Washington Post Company) our columnist has yielded to the crass motives and hyperbole he loves to lampoon.

Yes, Steve Jobs said the PC (including the Mac) isn’t “the future”, but he didn’t go on to euthanize it.

Let’s go back to the evening of June 1st, 2010. We’re at the D8 conference discussed here last week. Steve Jobs is interviewed by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher; you can find the entire 95-minute video here.
(Sorry, iPad users, it’s Flash…but, wait…nevermind. Although the interview shows up as Flash on my antique personal computer, when I watch it on my iPad, behold!, the site detects the iPad client and spews an H.264 video stream. We can take this as a sign that the WSJ doesn’t want to miss the advertising revenue of 100 million iPod Touch/iPhone/iPad devices out there, and as a preview of what other sites will do, as well. And perhaps it’s a problem with my old desktop machine or older eyes, but the video look better on the iPad than it does on my PC.)

I’m watching the video as I write this. It completes and, in places, corrects my recollection of the event. Whatever one thinks of Steve Jobs—and the video won’t change many minds—the conversation contains a number of gems, such as Steve’s pithy view of the enterprise market (between 28:30 and 29:15), his take on the Adobe controversy, his pronouncement of carriers as “orifices” (that was a few years ago, recalled by Walt for laughs), the importance of editorial functions (Jobs doesn’t want us to “descend into a nation of bloggers”), how he looks at his job (around 59:00), and more. I know an hour and a half is a lot, but pay attention to what’s said and not said and, just as important, the face and body language.
The bit about the future of the PC comes between minutes 45 and 51. There, Apple’s CEO lays out his vision of the post-PC era in a string of very carefully weighed statements, interspersed with personal insights into the changes in user interaction brought about by the new very personal devices.

As Apple unties the software platform from the iPhone, one can imagine a number of iOS-powered devices in its future. Apple won’t necessarily follow HP’s example, but the latter has made it clear that they’ll use the newly-acquired Palm WebOS in devices such as printers. This is a high volume business, one where the traditional embedded software is user-hostile. Just imagine a Palm Pre screen grafted onto a printer.

In the D8 video, Jobs explains how difficult it would be to make an Apple TV that would replace the ugly set-top boxes foisted upon us by cable operators. He’s correct, the cable industry is a bad scene—just try to get a CableCard—but, as Mossberg reminds him, Jobs said the same thing years ago about phone carriers. What about the iPhone, then? “We managed to solve the problem…”

However you want to position it, the future appears to belong to the new breed of very personal computers. But the transition to the new era? Nowhere do we hear a date, or even a rate of change. There are even a few admissions of “we don’t know”. (The Apple people I spoke with don’t know either. Some will admit that they’re awestruck by the market reaction to the iPad. They’ve gotten used to the iPhone after three years, but the iPad…they’re happily puzzled. They knew it was a solid product, but, geeks that they are, they didn’t foresee the traction from normal humans.)
In other words, Jobs has no intention to “Osborne” the Mac and has said so. There are still many applications, ranging from professional photo and movie editing to hard-core document preparation, where the computing power of a PC is required. This is, of course, the kind of objection the incumbents always raise: The new thing is a toy, it’s too small and underpowered, it lacks this list of attributes and that array of devices. All true statements, but as the interloper pushes in, aided by a combination of simplicity, price, and ease-of-use, the incumbent plays to its strengths by increasing its natural attributes, its raw power and richer function set…and thus sets the pace for the new genre to surely but slowly gain more muscle and and broaden its uses. We’ve seen it before: minis versus mainframes, PCs versus minis and workstations.
Here, history hasn’t exactly repeated itself. What’s happened before our eyes is that the smartphone form factor—and inherent computing power “weakness”—has allowed it to skip some of the growing pains and jump to general acceptance. Being smaller, they aren’t expected to run legacy applications such as Office. Unencumbered by that burden, smartphones can flourish and gain momentum. Riding that momentum, the newest tablets have broadened the genre’s usability without having to pay the Office ransom that, in effect, castrated the PC Tablet.

In Q1 2010, the iPhone made as much revenue (to say nothing of profit) as the Mac and iPod combined. Assuming 2.5 million iPads sold in the quarter ending June 30th, with a few shiny iPhone 4’s sprinkled in, the Mac versus iPhone/iPad picture will become accentuated.
So, yes, Google with Android, Apple with iOS and, perhaps, HP with WebOS have ushered in a new era of post-PC personal computing. The PC won’t reign supreme anymore…but it will still be around for a long time.

JLG@mondaynote.com

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