Post-PC = pre-PC?

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By Danny Escasa

Some months ago, I took my laptop in for repair and faced the prospect of up to five days without a computer. So what, we’re in the post-PC era ? or at least at its threshold ? and I could use my Android phone for much of what I’d do on my PC, right?

Maybe so, but I instead chickened out and bought a surplus PC from HMR. Still, I was curious: could I do most of my PC work on my Android phone? Curiosity ? and perhaps a measure of insanity ? eventually won, and here I am, using my phone to write this article.

Before I go on, I should clarify that I’m not about to give up my computer any time soon. I still need it for heavy-duty jobs. For instance, I play around with operating systems such as FreeBSD and GNU/Linux, and with server software, something I can do only on a full PC, usually with a virtual machine software application. I can, however, use a mobile phone where even my laptop would be out of place.

So how far are we into the so-called post-PC era? Can we really use a mobile phone or tablet for much of what we do on our PCs?

For the purposes of simplification, we can think of a PC as a laptop or a desktop computer equipped with, at a minimum, an Intel-architecture CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 100GB hard drive, a 12″ video monitor, and a mouse and keyboard. It would run either Windows, Mac OS, or some Unix-like operating system, hosting web browsers, an office suite, possibly a photo editing software application.

For the purposes of this article, a post-PC device is one that runs a ?light? operating system such as iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, or others. The device is typically portable, and could sport a screen no larger than 10in. It is also about the computing equivalent of a 1990s PC.

On the software side, you would need at the very least a Web browser, which should take case of all your online needs. However, for a deeper ?user experience? ? whatever that may mean ? you’ll want dedicated apps for Gmail, Facebook, Google +, Twitter, maybe a few others according to taste.

I myself have in addition to those apps, Google Reader and Evernote. Frustrated with the old official Facebook app, I replaced it with Friendcaster.

In brief, all of those apps work, albeit with their minor quirks ? i.e., none of them have any serious defects, and the developers do pay attention to feedback on the Google Play Store.

You may have at least two concerns as regards writing copious amounts of text on a phone: output and input.

Output ? i.e., mainly the screen ? could be an issue, especially if you have a phone with the same screen size as mine, 3.2″.

Surprisingly though, I survived hours of reading text on that screen. Many websites have mobile versions, and noteworthy among these are the sites belonging to the International Data Group publications.

Sites that did give me a hard time were online comics ? understandable, because in contrast with text, it’s not easy to make mobile-friendly comics.

Input is another matter. I touch type, and just couldn’t shift from nine- to one-fingered typing. Early on, I tried T9 on my phone and gave up ? it just wasn’t the same as on my feature phone.

Then I discovered MessagEase, a radically different method that takes advantage of the touch interface, specifically tapping and swiping. Its layout makes for a steep learning curve and it may not be for everyone, but it works for me. Now to go for the world record.

One thing I did discover first-hand is just how much battery power a data connection eats up. On standby, with about half a dozen text messages and the occasional voice call, my battery consumption is about 30-40 percentage points. With WiFi on most of the day, I would go from 80 down to 25 percent. If you want to replicate my experiment, you’ll do well to be near charging facilities.

To answer the question as to how far we are into the post-PC era: quick answer, still a ways to go. Longer answer will make for another article.

Resources:
MessagEase ? http://www.exideas.com
Evernote ? http://www.evernote.com

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