Two technology giants are having a linear debate that boils down to this question: who’s a truck?
Somewhere, someone in the cab of an 18-wheeler barreling down an interstate highway is taking offense. In tech terms, it’s not good to be a truck.
Two men named Steve are the combatants. Ultimately, if it works like it’s supposed to, consumers around the world will wind up the better for it, with more choices.
Under the visionary scope provided by the All Things Digital conference here, the future of something that to date we’ve called the personal computer, laptops included, is being debated.
The hedging above about the nomenclature for computers is important, because part of this debate is semantic.
Let’s start Tuesday night with Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple. He spun a nice historical analogy about personal computers that, understandably, played to the strengths of Apple’s product lines.
Jobs described an agrarian America of yore where the motor vehicles needed were trucks, and so trucks dominated the landscape. A later, more urban and suburban nation needed fewer trucks, many more sedans and so that transition took place. Trucks didn’t disappear, but their market share became small and specialized.
Jobs said PCs are trucks. That includes Apple’s Macs, but they still have only a small share of the PC market. Presumably the iPhone, the iPad and other devices are the cars, though Jobs did not specify.
This morning, the other Steve, Steve Ballmer, chief executive of Microsoft, got his chance.
Point one from Ballmer: people will be using PCs around the world in greater and greater numbers for years to come.
Point two from Ballmer: nothing people do on a PC today will become less crucial tomorrow. He calls the PC a general purpose device.
To confuse things further, Ballmer considers Apple’s iPad a PC. “Of course it is,” he said. “It’s a different form factor of PC.” Ballmer uses the phrase ‘form factor’ quite often.
A key point Ballmer made was that if you look around the world, not everyone can afford “five devices.” So, from Microsoft’s point of view, if you can only afford one device, you likely will go for that general purpose device. That looks something like today’s laptops.
Still, PCs will morph. In fact, Ballmer said, there will be tablets that run Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Some devices without keyboards will run Windows.
“The race is on.” Indeed.
(The All Things Digital conference is associated with Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires.)