All tablets are PCs, but not all PCs are tablets

There’s a debate going on over the affect of tablets on the PC market. Tablets are taking over, and killing PC sales…or so the story goes.

We need to start out, though, by examining what defines the “PC” market. The term PC has traditionally been associated with Intel-based hardware running some version of the Windows operating system. Marketing campaigns like Apple’s “I’m a Mac / I’m a PC” reinforce that stereotype. But, PC doesn’t only apply to Wintel devices, and in some cases Wintel devices are specifically excluded.

According to IDC, PC sales plummeted 14 percent in the most recent quarter, but IDC uses an arbitrary definition of what is a “PC” and what is not. When IDC examines PC sales, it lumps a lot of things together–including Windows desktop and laptop “PCs”, as well as all sizes and shapes of Mac “PCs”, and even Linux “PCs” like the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition. It even includes ultrabook/tablet hybrids like the Lenovo Yoga or the Dell XPS 12 convertible, and all-in-one PCs that act like tablets, such as the Dell XPS 18.

However, it doesn’t count tablets–not even if those tablets have the same Intel processor hardware, and run the same Windows 8 Pro operating system as other “PCs”. IDC analysts have explained to me that IDC defines a tablet as any device that allows you to detach the keyboard…unless it’s larger than 16-inches, in which case it still qualifies as an all-in-one PC. That is why a Dell Latitude 10 is a “tablet” to IDC, while the XPS 18 is a “PC” even though they’re just different size options for devices that are virtually identical in both form and function.

OK, so that seems silly. Basically, the Surface Pro and Windows 8 Pro tablets of all shapes and sizes (as long as they’re under 16 inches) could skyrocket in sales and dominate the tech world, and based on IDC math the PC market would still be in free fall.

Clearly we need to update our terminology, and get some consensus about what counts as a “PC”. But, I’ll go a step farther. Not only is it silly to not count an actual Windows 8 Pro computer as a PC just because it’s a tablet form factor smaller than 16 inches, it’s ridiculous not to count all tablets as part of the PC market.

Tablets are to PCs as dolphins are to whales. They’re part of the same general family. Just as all dolphins are whales, but not all whales are dolphins; all tablets are PCs, but not all PCs are tablets. It comes down to defining “PC”, which is really just an acronym for “personal computer”.

There are certainly a wide variety of use cases that require more processing horsepower, a larger display, and/or specific software that just won’t run on a pure tablet like an iPad or Google Nexus. Although there are thousands of games for iOS and Android, tablets are no match for hardcore gaming PCs.

That said, there are also a wide variety of scenarios that a tablet works perfectly well for, and a desktop PC would fail miserably. A desktop PC isn’t great for reading a Kindle book in bed, or for second-screen interaction while watching an event or show on TV.

Regardless of how you use a tablet, though, it is technically a “personal computer”. And, for the vast majority of users, the tablet is just as capable as a traditional desktop or laptop PC–in some cases more so. Most people check email, surf the Web, post thoughts on Twitter, or share pictures with family and friends on Facebook from their PC. They instant message, or video chat over Skype. They shop on Amazon, track their finances, and keep track of their contacts and calendar events. A tablet is just as capable of performing these routine personal computing tasks as any other “PC”.

The tablet can’t kill the PC market, just like dolphins can’t kill off whales. A tablet is a personal computer that simply represents an evolution of how we define the term “PC”.

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