Casting its new technology as the cusp of a revolution seems to be standard operating procedure at Apple. In announcing the iPhone in 2007, CEO Steve Jobs said it was "a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone."
And, true to form, Jobs is depicting Apple's fast-selling iPad -- now at two million devices and counting -- as the harbinger of doom for the personal computer -- or at least its centrality in our digital lives.
PCs Like Trucks?
At Tuesday's All Things Digital Conference, sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, Jobs, in response to a question by the Journal's Steve Mossberg, said it's only a matter of time before tablets like the iPad replace laptops.
"The transformation of the PC to new form factors like the tablet is going to make some people uneasy because the PC has taken us a long ways," said Jobs, as quoted in media reports. "The PC is brilliant ... and we like to talk about the post-PC era, but it's uncomfortable."
Referring to the time when we were an "agrarian nation," Jobs said trucks used by farmers were more common than cars until urban driving fueled the demand for more cars.
"PCs are going to be like trucks," he said, less common but still important, while tablets like the iPad, which he said Apple is selling at a rate of one every three seconds, will increasingly catch on as they pick up more features.
Jumping the Gun?
"He's certainly being provocative," said Avi Greengart of Current Analysis. "It's a bit too early to tell whether tablets will displace PCs for most users. However, it is clear that relatively low-powered PCs, netbooks, are providing much of the growth in the PC industry, that mobility is crucial, and that Apple has produced the first tablet to sell in volume using a different OS model than the traditional heavy, productivity-centric approach."
Greengart added that Jobs seemed to be making sure Apple is at the head of the parade. "In terms of Apple's Mac sales, Steve's notion is clearly 'if PCs are going to be displaced, we want to build what's displacing them,'" Greengart said.
Michael Gartenberg of the Altimeter Group sees the iPad and similar devices setting the stage for the next several decades. "The PC isn't going away and there's still going to be folks who need that level of functionality, but I think the trend will be toward more appliance-like computing models," Gartenberg said.
In his discussion, Jobs also said Apple engineers were toying with a tablet long before the iPhone, but Jobs was adamant about eliminating the need to input with handwriting. "What we said is, if you need a stylus, you have already failed," he was quoted as saying.
In the early 2000s, he said, when Apple developed a multi-touch display for input, Jobs decided it should be used for a phone and put the tablet on hold until after the success of the iPhone.