After an excessively long contemplation period, I’ve decided to add two new machines to my family of computers. One in particular I’ve had for a while, but the issue at hand was whether to consider them truly part of my family of computers, or just simply consumer electronics devices. I’ve decided they’re part of my computer family.
First — my third-generation iPad, Clifford. I’ve had him since March, 2012, so he is not new to the household. Prior to this, my wife and I had found ourselves increasingly storing my laptop, Beaker, behind the couch and using him to quickly check emails, look up actors in movies, etc. But, as we did more of this, we also increasingly became aware of how bad a Windows laptop is for this use case. You have to wait for the machine to boot up, deal with update notifications, wait for software to load, and then when you’re done, you have a big laptop to either put on the coffee table, or put back behind the couch. This wasn’t working.
So, somewhat on a leap of faith, I decided that a tablet would probably be a better fit, and did some research, and decided on the iPad. I can say that the iPad indeed has been great at fulfilling this use case. It has no boot-up time, has a user interface that is streamlined for the task at hand, and requires minimal maintenance. And the fact that it’s slim and light means it’s fine to just set it down on the coffee table, as if it were a magazine. It doesn’t look out of place. Clifford very quickly overtook Beaker entirely for these sorts of tasks — I daresay that Clifford is now our primary computer, in terms of how much we use it directly.
Second — my third-generation Apple TV, Beauregard. I just recently got this a couple weeks ago. Several years ago, I got my first Home Theater PC, Scooter. It seemed like it would be useful to have a small PC, permanently connected to the TV. I didn’t know 100% what we would use it for, other than Netflix, so I wanted it to be really flexible. In this vein, I got a small-form-factor PC, running Windows. This way, I could do anything on my TV that I could do from my PC. That was a big positive, especially in order to allow me to explore how best to fit a HTPC into our lives. But there were certainly negatives, too — a cursor/window/desktop-based user interface is not the most couch-friendly way to interface with a TV, and since it was a relatively low-powered general-purpose PC, it would sometimes lack the horsepower for some tasks (like HD Netflix streaming). But despite these drawbacks, we really discovered what we use it for: Netflix, Pandora, downloaded iTunes content, and some website streaming (like from TV network sites).
I typically put my machines on roughly 4-year upgrade cycles, so as Scooter was nearing this mark I began thinking of how best to replace it, now that I knew what we used it for. I spent a long period of time researching various options, and eventually decided that the Apple TV was pretty much the only option that would A) Allow us to do everything we currently do with no sacrifices and B) Improve on the things we already do. And so far, I’ve been incredibly happy with the purchase. It has built-in Netflix streaming, and since it uses hardware video decoding and is optimized for this task, and it can handle even Netflix’s new Super-HD streaming quality (which looks almost as good as Blu-Ray and has surround sound!). It has built-in support for iTunes-purchased media. It can integrate with iTunes running on a PC in order to play home movies or other videos stored on the PC. And through AirPlay, you can send anything you can access from your iPhone or iPad to the Apple TV — this covers Pandora, website streaming, etc. And in a lot of ways, handling those sorts of tasks via AirPlay is actually better than having built-in support for it. I certainly would rather browse to a website from my iPad with its virtual keyboard and then send the video, rather than try to type on a TV screen. It pulls the “fiddly” user interface elements closer to you. It’s entirely worked up my expectations, with no issues. Excellent.
So why did I wait so long to add these new machines, particularly Clifford? Because these are fundamentally different from the machines I’ve previously listed here. Desktop PCs allow for building and upgrading of parts. They’re “real” PCs. You don’t upgrade parts on an iPad, or Apple TV. They feel like a different type of device — consumer electronics. But, they take over the same tasks as traditional PCs — and in many cases do them better. My iPad has almost completely displaced my laptop — the laptop only comes out in very specific cases now. My Apple TV Beauregard has banished my old HTPC Scooter to the basement TV. I think this trend will continue to some degree — this is the “post-PC” world Apple talks about. If I don’t count consumer electronics devices as computers, in ten years I won’t have any computers! So in the end, I decided that devices like this will be considered part of my family of computers if they assume at least part of the role of a traditional computer that I already listed here.
It’s a brave new world!