The phrase "post-PC era" has been kicked around a lot over the last year. The term comes from the idea that so many people are using smartphones and tablets that PCs aren't as important anymore. Naturally, some of us take exception to this idea. It's hard to deny that computer sales have slowed and that mobile devices have exploded in the last decade, but that doesn't mean we live in a post-PC era. In fact, it means just the opposite. We live in a new age of personal computing in which the term "personal computer" has become obsolete.
Let's dig into the term PC. Way back when, a personal computer was a monolithic, expensive device used to work, play, and communicate online. It was a single, specific thing around which you focused. Of course, when you have more than one person at home and only one computer, or when you are limited in your access by your work computer, it becomes much less personal. The term made sense when the idea of a device usable by one person as a self-contained computer, instead of terminals connected to a huge mainframe, was novel. But that was decades ago.
The term personal computer doesn't apply as much anymore, because we are inundated with devices that have far greater capabilities than those personal computers. My cell phone is more powerful than my first five computers combined. It's synced with my home computer, my work computer, my tablet, and my game systems, and they all are connected to different facets of my online identity, with the capability to access my media and communicate with my friends through each of them in different ways.
My Apple, Google, and Steam logins account for a solid 90 per cent of my digital presence. With three username/password combinations, I access my documents, media, and games on any compatible device. Personal computing is so much more personal because it's tied to my identity, not a single gadget or system. The way we use computers and other devices that effectively are computers – and that eclipse the first few decades of personal computers in power and functionality like a TI-83 eclipsing an abacus – is linked to who we are, not what we own.
If I buy a new iPad tomorrow, it takes me five minutes to "restore" it to the state of my current iPad. My accounts, my apps, and my documents are all accessible through a device that I just took out of the box. The same is true if I buy an Android phone or a new computer. After a few minutes of syncing (and however many hours it takes for Steam to download my games), anything I touch becomes "mine." It becomes personal.
Despite mobile devices overshadowing computers in the market, PCs (and Macs) remain an anchor for online life. They haven't been diminished by everyone buying smartphones and tablets and game systems and connected HDTVs. They've become augmented. Every account we make online, every social network we access, communication app we use, and every media service we watch and listen to is available on all of these other devices.
Even if computers disappear in a year or two, replaced by docked tablets, dongles plugged into TVs, or any other technology that can successfully emulate the usability of a computer, that won't mean personal computing is gone. It will mean it's everywhere. Instead of one device, we'll have a half dozen doing the same jobs that a PC once did. And what if one becomes prominent – a single significant device on which we work, play, and communicate, complemented by a few other devices? That smartphone, tablet, set-top box, or pair of futuristic electronic glasses will be our new PC.
Personal computers became personal when it was just one computer for one person, instead of one computer for many people. Now, personal computing has become even more personal by becoming something done by many devices for one person. Nearly everything we use to work, play, or communicate is a computer in itself. And thanks to ecosystems becoming capable of communicating with each other, and cloud storage making it possible to access everything we need from any device, computing has become tied to our individual identities instead of our devices.
It doesn't matter if the PC market as we know it dwindles because of smartphones and tablets. We're still in a greater age of personal computing than we've ever seen before.