The "post" prefix

This headline by Paul Hontz has been making the rounds:

If iPads are “post-pc devices” why must I sync with iTunes before I can use one?

This is a reference to a term Steve Jobs used at two points during the iPad 2 announcement. Here's the gist of Hontz's complaint:

Steve said that the iPad was “a post-pc device”. As an iOS developer who makes his living building apps for iPads and iPhones, I disagree. You see iOS has this ball and chain attached to it called “iTunes” that runs on a typical PC.

Before I go on, let me be clear: I get that some people, maybe a lot of people, hate being chained to iTunes. Although my own gripes about iTunes are not as strongly felt, I can understand that others are very bothered by this.

That said, some people seem not to have listened to what Jobs actually said. Hontz and others are going way overboard in their interpretation of the "post" prefix. They're reading it as in "post-apocalyptic" when they should be reading it as in "post-Industrial". We may have an information-based economy, but we still use factories to build our computers.

Here's what Jobs said at 3:45:

Now, today we're here to talk about Apple's third post-PC blockbuster product. Right? That's how we think about these things. We started off in 2001 with the iPod, right, our first post-PC product, and we've been at it ever since. In 2007 we added the iPhone, and in 2010 we added the iPad. And every one of these has been a blockbuster. So we're in a position now where the majority of our revenues come from these post-PC products.

Jobs is acknowledging what many have been observing for years. The stars of Apple's product line are no longer PCs but iOS devices. Hence, "post-PC".

Mac developers fretted the first time WWDC was dominated by iPhone stuff rather than Mac stuff. Why? Because, although the term wasn't in use then, it was a sign that Apple was going "post-PC". Some people, especially after the introduction of the Mac App Store, fear that Macs are going to become "walled gardens" like the iPhone and iPad. Why on earth would anyone think this might happen? Because they know Apple has gone "post-PC".

At 1:08:35, Jobs says this about how post-PC devices are different from PCs:

It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough, that it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing. And nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.

And a lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and they're looking at this as the next PC. The hardware and the software are done by different companies, and they're talking about speeds and feeds just like they did with PCs.

And our experience and every bone in our body says that that is not the right approach to this, that these are post-PC devices that need to be even easier to use than a PC, that need to be even more intuitive than a PC, and where the software and the hardware and the applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than they do on a PC.

In other words, tablets (really, iOS-type devices in general) have different criteria for success than PCs. The analysts and competitors trying to figure out the success of the iPad are still using pre-iOS reasoning, and Jobs is saying they have it wrong.

Whether you agree or not — whether you think all this is spin or marketing or whatever — these are the assertions Jobs made. He never said or implied anything that should lead anyone to think you don't need iTunes to use your iPad.

To recap:

Before: Apple was exclusively or primarily a PC company.
After: Apple's iOS devices have more revenue and mindshare than their PCs.

Before: PCs were judged on criteria like "speeds and feeds".
After: iOS devices are succeeding because of different criteria — integration and elegance.

(Note: You can download the video of the event by subscribing to the Apple Keynote podcast.)

5 thoughts on “The "post" prefix

  1. The day Apple goes completely post-PC is the day I begin migrating essential functions away from Apple hardware. I already keep many files backed up on GNU/Linux systems and strive for cross-platform deployability wherever possible. I hope Apple doesn't dumb things down too much in pursuit of the almighty dollar. I need my Emacs, my ports, my whole development environment. I do much tinkering with many languages and technologies. That's what gives me joy, not being a mere consumer.

  2. I agree, if that ever happens it will be a hard pill to swallow and hard to make a case for staying loyal to the Mac platform.

  3. Excellent analysis, Andy. I'm one of those people annoyed by having my computer (iPad) chained to my computer (Mac). I totally agree with you that too much emphasis is being put on the phrase, "post-PC." Paul Hontz's article resonated with me as a) THe iPad has a terrible out-of-box experience ("Let me just turn this on to use…hook up to iTunes?!?") and b) the constant need to go back to iTunes for content.

    Don't get me wrong: I like iTunes. I certainly don't want to be managing 80Gb of audio and video manually. However, my iPad has iTunes…and I can't use it to subscribe to a podcast? That's just crippling the device—likely for reasons of not overloading anyone's 3G network. But it's still frustrating.

  4. Ed: Yeah, I think that frustration is also echoed by the outrage over lack of an SD slot. There was something else silly that I couldn't do in iTunes — I think it was deleting videos when I discovered my iPhone was almost full and I wasn't at home.

  5. I don't know when this showed up, but here's a trend in the right direction: I just clicked on an .epub file in mobile Safari and I was offered, "Open in iBooks?" That's great. I'm guessing that once I hook up my iPad to iTunes (which is very rare) that it'll sync back from the iPad to iTunes. That made me test with a PDF and got the same behavior.

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