The Tablet PC in 2014

via John Gruber. Timothy B. Lee, Vox:

Tablets aren’t PCs. Indeed, iPads and Android-based tablets have succeeded precisely because they ditched the complexity of traditional PCs. Microsoft’s determination to make “tablet PCs” is a sign that the company doesn’t understand the economic forces behind the mobile computing revolution.

Tablets can be PCs. To me, a tablet is just a form factor: a piece of glass with the guts behind it. The Surface Pro 3 is a good example: imagine it running Windows 7.

The economic forces behind the mobile computing revolution? I don’t think there’s a mobile computing revolution in the classic sense of the word computing. Post-PC devices like the iPad are mostly used for triaging emails and responding to some of them, browsing the internet, playing casual games, etc. And yes there are some who use it as a serious productivity tool, but the iPad is mostly a non-computing device in the traditional sense of the word computing; the Surface Pro 3 on the other hand is. You work on that 12-inch tablet PC.

You wouldn’t want to read a book on it. Nor would you want to play Candy Crush on it. You certainly don’t want to use it as a camera to take photos and share them on Instagram. What you do on the Surface Pro 3 is compute: word processing, creating/modifying Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. (Again, yes you can do these things on the iPad, but it actually takes more work and effort than on the Surface Pro 3 with a keyboard and trackpad.)

Smartphones and tablets are a good example of what business guru Clay Christensen called a disruptive innovation: a technology that’s simpler and cheaper than the technology it replaces.

I don’t think smartphones and tablets (like the iPad) are replacing personal computer like the Mac. There are fringe usage scenarios where the iPad can and does replace a Mac, but most everyone I know who has an iPhone and/or an iPad also have a personal computer. Easy tasks such as text-only emailing is an example where an iPad can be used instead of a personal computer. Creating a complicated newsletter on the other hand is more easily done on a personal computer. The iPad can be used to make one, but it isn’t as easy or productive.

In short, the iPad was a hit because it didn’t have all the features of a full-blown MacBook.

Again, I don’t know of anyone — maybe I just know the wrong people — who bought an iPad and said, “Time to ditch the Mac.” For quite some time I think we’ll own and use three broad categories of digital devices: personal computers, tablets, and smartphones.

Microsoft’s Surface tablets have a funny shape and muddled user interface that make them a poor alternative to a full-fledged PC.

A funny shape? Looks like the shape of an iPad to me. I agree the user interface can be much better: I would recommend Windows 7, which would reveal the fact that the Surface Pro 3 is in fact a real full-fledged PC.

And they’re too complex and expensive to be a serious alternative to an iPad or Android tablet.

The 64GB Surface Pro 3 starts at US$799. The 128GB WiFi iPad Air goes for $799. I don’t think the hardware specifications can be apples-to-apples compared, but to call the Surface Pro 3 too expensive? Consider how expensive a hypothetical 64GB 12-inch iPad would be.

Desktop operating systems have been too complex for quite some time. OS X doesn’t have to be; Windows was designed to be. There really is a need for a simpler experience on personal computers, but that need isn’t limited to just the Surface Pro 3. But why does a personal computer running a desktop operating system need to be a serious alternative to an iPad or an Android tablet? It doesn’t.