The PC is Complete

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read

Apple and Microsoft both had PC events this week where they showed off the latest and greatest each company had to offer in terms of PC hardware in 2016. Microsoft got things rolling first with their Surface Studio, a 28 inch touch screen PC on a stand that lets you easily change it from a drafting table to a standard screen. It's big, it's appealing to designers, and it's hella expensive. Apple then hit the floor with a new line of MacBook Pros. These new Pros are thinner and lighter of course, but they also have a new design, as well as a distinctive new Touch Bar. I should note it's also hella expensive, if only a little less so.

Both machines are natural evolutions of what each company was doing before, but neither is a seismic shift in what's on the market. I do give Apple the slight edge here because while the Surface Studio is bigger than the MacBooks, the Touch Bar is more unique and unexpected (rumors not withstanding). Put it this way, the Surface Studio is just a bigger version of the same stuff we've had forever on Windows, but the Touch Bar is totally new and has people brainstorming new, interesting things to do with it. But even then, the Touch Bar didn't change the game for personal computers.

So from a hardware side we're moving forward, but very slowly. Take a user from 10 years ago and show them these new computers and they'll be very familiar with everything they see. They'll say the Mac is thinner and lighter and that touch screen is cool, and they'll say the Surface is bigger and cooler, and that touch screen is cool. Their minds will be safely not blown though.

Turning to software, macOS had a major release last month, and Microsoft had their last major release last summer. Apple is advertising Siri, iCloud drive enhancements, and optimized storage. If you look at the reviews, most will tell you that Siri is not super useful, and you probably shouldn't even use the new iCloud Drive and storage options. I personally think the best update in Sierra is that I can use your Apple Watch to unlock my Mac. That's nice, but it's not what you would expect as the best feature of a major OS release.

On the Windows side, Windows 10 was largely celebrated for bringing the Start menu and undoing a lot of the changes made in Windows 8. They also bragged about Edge, a new browser that let you draw on websites. Yay. Here's from The Verge's review:

Windows 10 has some great additions over Windows 8 and Windows 7, and it really feels like a good blend of the familiarity of Windows 7 and some of the new features of Windows 8. It’s not irritating to use, and you don’t need a tutorial to find the Start menu. It just works like you’d expect.

There is some new stuff in Windows, but the general praise was for blending the last 2 versions of Windows together, not creating a bunch of really new features.

Hardware and software is evolving slowly for both macOS and Windows. My take is that both of these platforms are largely complete. By 'complete" I don't mean that we'll never see new releases or that sales are about to dive off a cliff, but that these machines have essentially achieved their final form. People aren't lining up around the block for the new Macs that just came out, and they won't be rushing their local best buy for the next version of Windows like they did for Windows 95. People buy and download these things when they need to, not because they're excited about a new gizmo. Even I as a huge nerd only bought my latest Mac when my old one was on it's very last legs. At the same time, I get a new iPhone ever 12 months and a new iPad as often as I can reasonably fit into the budget.

The fundamental reason for this is that I strongly believe the future of computers can be seen in iOS and Android, not Windows and macOS. That's where the excitement is, and it's where you see people accomplishing more and more of their work. No one will deny that the iPhone changed the smartphone game in 2007, but it also changed the computer industry as well. Smartphones have changed from something that is a nice accessory to getting your work done to the thing you actually do a good chunk of your work on. And for all those things that need a bigger screen to do well, the iPad and multitude of Android tablets are there for that now. Use of these products in the workplace has skyrocketed over the past decade.

Meanwhile on the home front, phones and tablets are taking over people's computing time here as well. People browse Facebook and Twitter on their phones while they watch TV, they don't use their laptops. We stream videos to our TVs from those same devices, and we communicate with friends and family with iMessage, Snapchat, SMS, and million other mobile chat platforms instead of emailing or using an desktop AIM client like we used to. Most of these things can technically be done from a laptop, but a growing majority of people prefer to do them on anything besides their PCs.

The traditional PC platforms are being squeezed out from both ends, and I don't see any reason they won't continue to lose mind share among everyone beside those with niche needs. Look no further than the pricing for these new PCs as proof of their niche status. The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar runs you $1,799 for the lowest end model. That's more than a lot of people will be able to spend on a computer, but it looks like a steal when compared to the $2,999 starting price for the Surface Studio.

Apple dropped the ball when they used the "hello again" wording on their invite for their event this week. The new MacBook Pros are not an obvious computer we'll look back on like the Macintosh and iMac and say "that was a computer that changed things!" No, this was a solid, but not game changing update. I think the message would be much stronger if they had using this wording for an event where they unveiled a new iPad Pro that featured a big update to iOS that makes it the true desktop replacement that many people have already realized it is. Apple seems to be squeezing the MacBook Air out of the line up right now, and I hope their plan is to stick the iPad Pro in it's place as the default "laptop" computer for most people. The Mac is for legacy and niche users, and the iPad and iPhone are the products for everyone else. That would be a "hello again" worthy of the reference.