Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Coming Mobile Backlash?

I've had an iPhone or Android device on me at all times since 2008. I have owned 5 tablets in the past 12 months. I'm no stranger to the "Post-PC" era.

And yet, sometime last year, something clicked.  When I use my phone or a tablet or anything that's supposed to be "post-PC", I wish I had a PC.  Mac, Linux, Windows... even BeOS, I don't care, just something with a normal keyboard, a big screen, a mouse and multitasking, overlapped-window OS.

Someone else out there feels this way too, right?  You're trying to type on tiny screen keys and even with the auto-completing dictionary you can't type even one-third of the speed or accuracy as you could on a real keyboard.  Or you're trying to browse the web and that awkward focus/refocus thing just to see a block of text.  Or you've been harassed by a website enough to install their native app only to find out it's buggy, lags behind the real site in speed and functionality.  Or you've got that iPad awkwardly set up on its foldable case at a coffee shop, enjoying the 4" screen area not covered by a keyboard like a TRS-80 model 100.

In the pre-slab-phone era -- aka Blackberry/Treo era -- I used to make fun of Blackberries as "Great, Awesome, Thanks" devices.  People I knew who used them (mostly my managers at a large games company) typed replies to email with pretty much one word:"Great", "Awesome" or "Thanks".  And now, I'm one of those people with my 4th generation slab phone Galaxy Nexus.  How far we've come.  I am paying $200-$300/yr for these devices and $400 for a data plan where, most of the time when typing a reply, I long to be sitting at a desk with a keyboard and mouse.  So I just type "Thanks", "Awesome" or "Great".

Yeah, it's great to be able to have a device with you everywhere.  I also have my laptop with me everywhere, which is about ... this is just an approximation ... 1,374x more useful than any of my tablets or slab phones have ever been or ever will be.  So far, the truly useful things I've experienced with my phone are maps and Google Now.  Everything else has been kind of meh.  And now "the desktop" is being eroded by the trends in mobile because of this Post-PC thing.  The worst case scenario, to me, is Microsoft's proposal with Windows 8:  all the advantages of a PC form factor with a walled garden of application deployment through an app store.

I don't want another tablet.  I don't want another phone.  I think a lot of people looked at the iPhone 5 and said, "neat, now what?"  Seriously:  now what?  What can we do with the latest iteration of any of these devices that's an improvement over what I do at my desk every day?  The PC revolution was about business, learning, workplace efficiency, and creativity.   Remember Lotus 1-2-3, or AppleWorks?  Those were like "WTFOMGHOLYWHAT".  This mobile revolution is, what?   Games?  Texting?  NFC?  When I try to pay with my phone, it's slower than using a credit card.  The pictures are worse than my camera, phone calls worse than my original RAZR flip phone and everything else worse than my laptop.

So as you can tell, I'm having a bit of a backlash against mobile, and I wonder if other people will too.  I suspect so.  Once they get terribly bored of staring down at their phone on a BART platform, checking Facebook for the 50th time, then realizing that typing a blog post about how annoying phones are would be torture to actually type on that phone, maybe people will start to conclude that all the claims of the Post-PC era are kinda premature.

And with that, I'm going to go grab Xcom: Enemy Unknown off of Steam.

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