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Opinion | Steve Jobs Was Right: Smartphones and Tablets Killed the P.C.



Meanwhile, something amazing happened with the iPhone and the many Android-based copycat phones it inspired. In the 2010s, smartphones became more popular, more powerful and more profitable than anyone in the tech industry thought possible. Within a few years, their sales and usage eclipsed that of PCs, and for much of the decade they were the fountain of most new consumer innovations across the technology industry. Smartphones made Uber and Instagram and Snapchat and TikTok possible. Smartphone cameras began to surpass stand-alone cameras, turning much of culture and society into a meme-soaked playground where visual media matters more than text.

The smartphone also altered the business dynamics of the tech industry. When the iPhone came out, Apple was just one of many successful hardware companies in the world. But the smartphone decimated a host of phone brands (remember Nokia? Motorola?), and as smartphones gained more power, they began making life impossible for a slate of hardware start-ups, from GoPro to Jawbone.

On the strength of the iPhone, Apple began capturing a greater and greater slice of the tech hardware business; although it didn’t sell a majority of units, its commitment to the high end of the market allowed it to make the bulk of profits. In the last quarter of 2017, according to one estimate, Apple made 86 percent of profits in the smartphone industry.

Apple’s dominance came despite the fact that the company made some big mistakes and was late to many big innovations. Samsung, not Apple, invented huge-screen phones. Apple’s Mac line was plagued by delays and dead ends, including a 2013 redesign of the Mac Pro that looked like a trash can and proved just as useful. And on the iPad, for many years, Apple just seemed to fall asleep. The iPad’s stylus and keyboard-forward design? Microsoft did it first on the Surface.

Yet none of this mattered. Because of its hold on the smartphone business and a very sticky software ecosystem that users found hard to leave, Apple has been able to incorporate many innovations pioneered elsewhere and sell its customers on a series of peripheral billion-dollar businesses, including the Apple Watch and AirPods.

And ultimately, it’s the ecosystem that explains why I can’t stop raving about the iPad. When it came out, the big knock on the iPad was that it was just a big phone; today, that’s what I love about it — like the Watch or AirPods, the iPad feels intuitive and natural to me because it works just like the device I use most often, my phone.

Like a phone, in most scenarios I find the iPad to be faster, more portable and easier to use and maintain than any traditional P.C. I’ve ever owned. The iPad’s limited screen space and emphasis on full-screen apps also makes for fewer distractions than on a traditional personal computer. The iPad, like my phone, lets me log in to my bank using my face; the Mac, in 2019, doesn’t even have a touch screen.

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