Michael reported earlier on Steve Jobs's talk Tuesday evening
with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the Wall Street Journal
's D8 Conference and the wide range of topics that they covered. One comment, made almost in passing, has prompted a fair amount of discussion: Jobs's statement that we are entering the "post-PC era." He's not the first person to warn about the death of the personal computer, of course: the PC's demise has been predicted for pretty much as long as there have been PCs. But now, with the iPad whipping off store shelves at the rate of a million per month (faster than the iPhone sold after its release), Apple may have more right than any manufacturer to brag about moving us past the personal computer. It's a separate question whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.
Mossberg had asked Jobs at the conference whether he thought the tablet would succeed the laptop
. Jobs asserted that it would, saying that "the PC has taken us a long ways,” and "the PC is brilliant" but that "we like to talk about the post-PC era." Jobs allowed, however, that "the transformation of PC to new form factors like the tablet is going to make some people uneasy... it's uncomfortable," he said. The closed nature of the iPhone OS has led many - such as Adobe's Kevin Lynch
- to complain about the "walled garden" Apple has created, with its many restrictions when compared to general purpose PCs.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started selling one of the very first personal computers worth the name
back in 1976. The 1.023 MHz Apple I with 4 kb RAM was little more than a bare motherboard: you had to add input (a keyboard), output (a TV), storage (a cassette tape recorder) and program it in BASIC. Computers have, of course, gotten many orders of magnitude more powerful, and simple enough to use that everyone from young kids to old folks can do basic things like email and Web browsing. But computers do still require at least a modicum of technical know-how to live with: everyone who reads this site has probably had the experience of having to help someone - often a frustrated or panicked someone - troubleshoot a PC problem.
Unjailbroken iPhones and iPads, on the other hand, are more or less appliances
. They do a few things well, and for the most part behave in a predictable manner. That's because hardware and software are rigidly controlled, marching lockstep through a very limited state machine, to the point that it's actually pretty hard to crash a stock iPhone. Not impossible
, obviously, but harder than it would be to crash a Dell laptop or jailbroken 3G.
This is the "walled garden:" a closed system that's completely under the control of the system's designers. To most of us who understand how to manipulate the tools we use, enjoy it to a greater or lesser degree, and most importantly need
the power and flexibility that general-purpose computing devices offer, the walled garden is a kind of... well, a jail
. But to non-technical users like my retired mom, a walled garden seems like a nice place. iPhone dev Neven Mrgan looks at the walled garden metaphor
and likens it to actual
walled gardens like the Portland Japanese Garden, which he notes is "closed and carefully managed" because "the garden is meant to create and foster a certain tranquil mindset." Though it may not be for everybody, he implies, there are alternative places for people to go who want a less controlling environment: "freer alternatives such as community gardens and city parks."
But busy people who just want to check out last night's scores and maybe update their Facebook status might be fine hanging out in their little walled gardens. And, you know what: maybe that is
a good thing. My free tech-support hours are going to diminish (not that I hate helping friends out, but I wouldn't mind fewer emergency calls). Even Steve Jobs allows that folks like us "are still going to be around..." we're just "going to be one out of x
people." And that's not altogether bad: those x
people being in the garden leave more room for the rest of us in the park.
image via motivatedphotos.com