Is there a future for the PC?
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 31 years


The buggy whip of our time

September 14, 2014

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2014, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2014, The Post-Standard

Is there a future for the buggy whip?

Oh, 'scuse me. I was in the wrong century. I meant to say, "Is there a future for the PC?"

That's where the PC is -- at the same precipice that swallowed up the buggy whip. There's nothing we can do about it. Henry Ford did in the buggy and its whip, and Steve Jobs did the same for the PC.

It was the iPad, of course, that dug the PC's grave. Other tablets followed by the millions. Google latched on with Android, Microsoft tried its neither-nor tablets and Amazon plied us with its quasi-Android Kindle Fires. But the iPad grabbed the shovel.

Sometimes things fail because they're just not any good -- the spork, for instance. Sometimes they fail because they're too expensive, like the VW Phaeton. (It sold for $85,000. That's why you never heard of it.) Sometimes they just lose their appeal.

The PC lost its appeal as soon as PC users spied the iPad. A computer without a keyboard? One you simply touched? Incredible!

More to the point, one that just plain worked? One that connected instantly to wireless networks? One that was born to show photographs? One that made you smile for days on end? A thing that ran all day and all night?

That never happened with PCs. As long as we had no choice, a PC was OK. Or kind of OK.

(And, yes, I lump Macs into the PC category. Kind of OK.)

But "kind of OK" is "kind of stupid" when something better comes along. Remember the Elcaset? Stereo AM radio? Lawn darts that could kill you?

Kind of stupid.

And so the PC is ready to take its place in history. It's happening before your eyes. By next year, more tablets will be sold than PCs. Many more tablets than laptops. Far more tablets than ugly beige boxes that take up your space and your life. The year after that, and the year after the year after that, the PC will be even more hunkered down.

Companies with offices won't get the point for a few years. They buy devices because people who earn their salaries promoting (and fixing) PCs tell them what to buy. But they'll figure it out. They always do.

Westfield, Mass. once had more than 40 buggy whip manufacturing plants. They're all gone except for the Westfield Whip Manufacturing Co. It still makes buggy whips. Nobody else does.

No doubt somebody will keep making PCs decades from now. For nostalgia's sake.

Nobody will care. It will be, of course, kind of stupid.