The Future of Personal Computing

Ever since I got my iPad in April 2010, whenever someone would ask me what I thought of it, I would tell them that I think it represents nothing less than the future of personal computing. When I said that, I wasn’t referring to the iPad per se. I meant that a device very much like the iPad was the future:

  • very portable
  • touch screen
  • touch optimized UI
  • simple application management
  • no need to consciously think about files and directories
  • little opportunity for one errant application to take down the whole device
  • smaller chance for viruses to take hold and wreak havoc

In the long run, it’s possible that some company other than Apple could come to dominate this market, but I wouldn’t bet against Apple at this stage. Their head start is too great, especially in light of what may be coming tomorrow.

The iPad was capable of the kinds of things that most people needed from their computers:

  • access to the web
  • photo management
  • music
  • videos
  • word processing
  • perhaps things like spreadsheets, presentations

Three big things were missing from the iPad: the ability to print, a way to back up the data and a way to synchronize with your iPhone. The iPad relied on a computer to do those two things. Then, of course, Apple shipped Air Print. HP is already shipping printers with Air Print support, so you can print directly from an iPad. No other computer required.

What I had been telling people since last year is that I was certain that within a couple of years Apple would sell a box that would eliminate the need to have a computer by providing backup and sync services. While Apple could have gone for providing those services completely in the cloud, I suspected that Apple would ship a box because the box would likely be more convenient and faster for large amounts of data. The rumor mill is now saying that Apple will introduce a Time Capsule update tomorrow that will do just that.

And this is why I wouldn’t bet against Apple right now. I wouldn’t describe their lead as insurmountable, but I would certainly call it formidable. To beat Apple in tablets, the future of personal computers, is going to be a challenge indeed.

I like Apple’s products because they do a great job of delivering on a solid user experience. On the downside, though, Apple wields a level of control over the iOS ecosystem that is far greater than Microsoft ever did over Windows. Microsoft abused their monopoly position, but Apple has consciously designed an ecosystem in which people buy into a level of control and filtering that promotes a predictable user experience on the one hand, but reduces freedom on the other.

In Apple’s defense, I will say that they have been working hard to build a great web experience into the iPad. Even after the App Store took off, Apple has continued to build new features into Mobile Safari that allow web developers to create apps that rival native apps. Of course, I wish they would open up their ecosystem to other browsers, but at least they aren’t letting their browser stagnate.

I do ultimately expect that there will be some very successful Android tablets, and I’m looking forward to switching to one sometime soon if for no reason other than being able to run the awesome and quickly improving Firefox Mobile. As a geek, I appreciate the extra freedom that Android devices often provide.

It sounds like Apple will tomorrow set your iOS devices free from a traditional PC or Mac, if you so desire. If it doesn’t happen tomorrow, I’m guessing that the introduction tomorrow will put us one step closer to that and within a year or two you could reasonably have a household where the only general purpose computers were iOS-based.

Disclaimer: I work for Mozilla and therefore have a keen interest in seeing a free internet flourish and a desire to see the Mozilla community’s amazing work on Firefox spread far and wide. I also own a small amount of AAPL stock.