nullstream weblog - Dvorakosaurus

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March 26, 2008 02:30 PM PST

Dvorak's new article is another inflammatory attempt at driving traffic to his site by presenting an argument counter to common tech wisdom. Ok I'll bite.

Dvorak - the iPhone is no desktop

His Main Points:

1. Smaller is becoming a problem.
2. Laptop as you only computer means you squint at a small screen and go blind - because they use a laptop at work as their main machine.
3. Because laptops don't get backed up, if it gets lost or broken they are toast.
4. Laptops are delicate.
5. Everyone thinks that the iPhone is going to be the next major computing platform. - What happens if people spill coffee on them?
6. They leave them all over, unlocked and with limited encryption. -Data robbing.
7. Claims that the desktop computer is the best model for computing. for 10 reasons: upgrade, displays, expandability, harder to steal, good input devices.
8, Only uses a laptop for travel.
9. Doesn't want to lug a laptop between home and work where it could break in the car.
10. If he wants data to be portable he'll load it on his 32G thumb drive.

Before I dive into the specifics of why he is an obsolete dinosaur who is nearly always wrong now, let's challenge the premise and then I'll counter his specific arguments. First why would we want the iPhone to be a desktop? What is so sacred about the desktop that it should be the model for all future technology? Next he uses the phrase 'computing' a lot. What is meant by that? What actually IS computing? My guess is that it is something that few people think they are doing, or even want to do. Lets say for sake of argument that the desktop IS the best computing platform (what ever that means), people don't buy an iPhone because they want to compute! The average iPhone consumer doesn't want to 'compute', he wants to find information, be entertained, stay connected with friends and he wants to do that from anywhere he goes.

Now we can drill down a bit. Laptops: Smaller, delicate, easy to lose or break, going to go blind... yadda, yadda. The very idea behind the success of the notebook computer is enough to counter his desktop argument entirely, and if fundamental to most os the technological development of the last century. People do not want to be tied down to a fixed location. Lets give some examples here: People don't want to be tied to their house or the town square to know what time it is (pocket and wrist watches). People don't want to be tied to a single town or region for their whole lives (trains, cars, planes). People don't want to be tied to a physical theater for their entertainment (radio, TV, VCRS, DVD). People don't want to be tied to within 20 feet of their kitchen in order to talk on the phone (cordless then mobile phones). People don't want to be tied to their living rooms at specific times for their favorite shows (Tivo, on demand, and streaming media). The list goes on and on. In fact one could say that the beloved desktop computer came about because companies and then individuals didn't want to be tied to a single shared computing resource at a fixed location.

As for his specific arguments against a laptop. Today's laptops don't have to be fragile. It depends on what you buy and how you treat it. Actually most of his arguments like fragile, not backed up, and easy to steal / lose are all focused on one idea - data loss. This is a solvable problem. Each year, more and more of your precious data is moving to the web. Soon all your important data will be hosted on a server where it is backed up, encrypted, and locked away. This is inevitable and solves all of those supposed problems. If your laptop gets run over by a truck, or becomes subject to terrorist coffee attack - you'll either get it fixed or just buy another and log back into your cloud data. Backups and full encryption are getting easier all the time, but also less relevant as data moves online. Dvorak doesn't see this because he is stuck in time applying an obsolete computing model to every new trend. As for going blind on a small screen, geez, if you ARE sitting at a desk whether at home or at work, just plug in a big friggin monitor. It's not that hard to figure out, and they are very cheap these days. Even a dinosaur could do this.

Regarding the iPhone. What is better then being able to access all of your digital information from anywhere using a notebook computer? Answer: being able to do it without a computer at all. This is the promise and the reality of mobile devices like the iPhone. It is about having the computer blend into the background so completely that you don't even know it is there. When a person can communicate, access digital media, search the entire planet for information, buy products, order tickets, read books etc. from a device that fits in the palm of your hand, and from nearly anywhere they happen to be, how could you possibly convince them they would be better off sitting at a fixed location in front of a desktop? Maybe you could tell them they aren't really doing 'computing', that might work. As for data loss - right, same answer as above. In fact it is the 'computing' and storage limitations of these devices that are accelerating the move to putting apps and all your data on the web. So the problem is solving itself. Regarding the iPhone specifically, I believe its single strongest point is that it offers a nearly full featured browser. With a real browser I can access real web sites, which means I can put more of my data online, which makes my mobile device even more valuable. Rinse, lather, repeat. As for the input / output arguments; many mobile devices today can drive external monitors. Most support external bluetooth keyboards and mice. If you really need to use those things you'll either bring portable versions with you, or you'll find any internet terminal to use to get at your data in the cloud. It only takes a little imagination to see possible ways to solve the small screen problem on a mobile device. There are many startups and established companies working on these problems. I'll give you some hints: micro projectors, retinal displays, folding e-ink screens, wireless vga protocols.

I fail to see how his solution for carrying around a thumb drives solves his theft or loss arguments. I also doubt he is using any reasonable encryption or backing up his data, but he could be. I do agree that Dvorak has no need for a notebook. As he says, why bother hauling it between home and work? And that sums up the problem - lack of imagination. If 'computing' to him, means sitting a desk, either home or work, how could he possibly imagine anyone needing or wanting to do 'it' anywhere else? I say let him sit at home tied to his desk pounding out his stupid column, while the rest of the modern world reads blogs, writes blogs (even rants about his articles), surfs the web, sends and receives texts, IM, emails, and manages their digital lives from nearly anyplace they happen to be. Yes the iPhone is no desktop - why would we want it to be?

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