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February 7th 2013 5:27 pm

Is the iPad mini a PC? No, it's a supercomputer!

According to a new report, Apple is now the world's top PC maker -- if you count the iPad as a PC. The report, from Canalys, says that Apple has a 20% share of the global PC market, having shipped 27 million computers during the 4th quarter of 2012 -- with iPads accounting for 22.9 million of those "computers."

With computer companies struggling amid competition from tablets, and even Apple seeing its high-flying stock come down to Earth as investors worry about the sluggish PC market, the new numbers raise an interesting point. Today's tablets, and even smartphones, are more powerful than full-fledged PCs from just a few years ago -- and even supercomputers from a couple of decades back. An iPad mini is actually faster than a Cray 2, which was the world's most powerful supercomputer back in the mid-80s. The Cray 2 also happened to weigh about 5,500 pounds, required liquid coolant to avoid overheating, and sold for about $16 million. Is the iPad a computer? Based on that comparison, it's hard to argue that it isn't.

The fact that Apple can now be considered the world's biggest PC maker, and is being hammered by the market, is just a sign of Moore's Law at work. Computers have continued to get more powerful, smaller, and cheaper, to the point where you can get a $329, pocketable tablet that bests a $16 million, room-sized supercomputer from the last century. An inevitable side effect of that is slimmer margins for the companies that make those computers, especially since you can also get a Cray-level Android tablet for as little as $200. That's the price of progress. And it's great for those of us buying these "PCs," even if it may not be the best thing for the shareholders of the companies making them.


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10 replies

Its easy to compare modern day things to the past to see progress.

A Ford Focus is a supercar compared to a Ford Model A.

That is why we need to keep adjusting our definitions and expectations. A supercomputer today is probably what powers IBM's watson, not a Cray 2, not Deep Blue.

In fact, a professor at the University of Alberta, Jon Schaeffer, solved the game of checkers "In 2007, after 18 years of computation" and I am pretty sure he even admitted with today's computers it would have been a bunch faster. (en.wikipedia.org­/wiki­/Jonathan­_Schaeffer)
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Comparing a device today to something made 30 years ago is not overwhelming.

It shows that people are capable of progress. Let that one marinate. Now, since you made a dumb point, I'm going to ramble a bit to show you some better points than the one you brought up about the lame (non-retina) iPad mini and the Cray 2.

What other aspects of life achieve progress similar to tech?

Religion? Does it have progress? Nope, constantly focused on the past and trying to make us relive shitty traditions from thousands of years ago. Religion constantly rebels against modern tech, slows adoption and increases resistance to better ways of living. Singing in groups? Good. Encouraging struggling people? Good. Most other things in organized religion? Not good.

Sports? Yes, in that the best players today are far better than players 30 years ago and as the playing field gets more and more level, increasing parity and such, but...A fastball is still 95 mph and a punt is still 40-50 yards. The best three point shooter in the NBA is still not shooting 50% from behind the arc, so progress is much slower with our bodies than with tech. Recovery time from injuries has progressed and players come back faster from things they never would have in the past!

Education? Nope. Teachers today still perform similar to how they would in the 1800s. There's one teacher lecturing, some examples are given, and homework is supposed to be done outside the classroom. Colleges are jumping on the progress bandwagon with online classes, virtual lectures, online tests, but in the US at least 90% of education has stayed the same: teacher, book, sheet of paper and pencil, for a long time.

Communication? Oh yes! Email, smartphones, texting, Facebook, twitter, Facetime/Skype, AOL instant messenger, Live streaming, DVR. How we communicate and consume has changed dramatically, mostly for the better. It has allowed us to be so much more efficient. Think about how high margins used to have to be for a business that had many secretaries, tall downtown office buildings (which still exist, but are less in demand), typists, phone operators and all the other crazy, but necessary things the last time you watched Mad Men.

Fashion? Maybe. Clothes are certainly made better, cheaper and more repeatably, but structurally cotton shirts, jeans and leather shoes look the same as they would have 30 or more years ago. I've worn my father's suit before I could afford my own and it fit the same as it if it were made today. The progress here is similar to sports from my limited knowledge about fashion.

Food? Yes! Food is cheaper, fresher and more convenient. Though there's tons of stats about starving children in the US, it's never been easier to buy cheap food, so I don't believe those numbers. Also, though prices haven't gone done like the tech field, food has progressed far in the past 30 years. Whether or not all the advances are healthy is another topic...

Health? Nope. Nutrition is more confusing than ever. Once people got rid of the Food Pyramid we've been flooded with conflicting garbage about what's healthy. People don't exercise like they used to because there's exciting things to do indoors now with video games and streaming video. Although there's a wealth of information on how to live healthier, it's tough to know if what you're currently doing is actually that good or that bad. People know that smoking is bad and drinking too much is bad, but some drinking is good and a little bit of smoking is okay? How much sleep do I need? 7 hours, 8 hours?Talk about confusing!

Cars? Maybe. Cars are about the same as 30 years ago with one important dividing factor: safety. Cars are much safer than they used to be. They are more reliable as well, but that largely depends on the driver as does fuel efficiency and the aforementioned safety. My 1991 Acura Integra had better MPG than my 2009 Chevy Cobalt and though that still makes me sad, I love my new(er) car so much more! Reliability is the biggest win here.

Planes? Nope. It's still expensive as hell and although they're are more flights, it's most likely a bigger pain in the ass than in the 80s. With companies constantly complaining that they're not making money, despite sticking us in planes from the 70s and 80s, the price will not come down until there is a feasible alternative. Something like high speed trains or something else revolutionary will bring down the cost of airfare. Also, leg room and on board snacks have vanished and you get a little bit of cancer every single time you go through those body scanners, so I would def rather ride a plane in the 80s vs now.

Feel free to add others. I figured I would run out of available space soon.
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Non-TL;DR part:

I agree that it doesn't really mean anything to say "hey, your iPad is totally more powerful than a supercomputer from 30 years ago." But if you think beyond that and ask yourself "how have we arrived here, what do I use this technology for and what does it mean for society?" then I think it's a good comparison to keep in mind.

Yes, people make progress, but it's not dumb to look back upon that progress and see what it has resulted in and how it has influenced society. We have to learn from the past to avoid repeating mistakes, after all.

TL;DR warning:

I'm not quite sure what the point of your examples are, but your explanations of them are making my social science senses tingle uncomfortably. I'd like to critique them a bit by slightly expanding your definition of what "progress" is, as I feel you've focused only on consumer/technological aspects of the examples you've listed and thus missed a lot of progress and change in these fields!

Religion: That summary portrays a limited view of what religion and religious studies are. I am not religious, but I have much respect for those who study and reinterpret religious documents and tenets and question their meanings in the context of modern-day society... which is exactly what happens today. If religions failed to update with relevant moral and spiritual guidance that kept up with what was going on today (social conditions, economics, scientific advances, technology, etc.), then fewer people would follow them. This is not the case. Just look at the new Pope. He was not chosen for how well he has memorized Leviticus, but for his social policies on helping the poor (not by praying for them, but by actually addressing their needs in this life!) and his humbler, more modern approach to the papacy. The Catholic church is clearly not just looking at the past, but responding to present conditions and needs, even at risk of angering its more conservative members. And your assertion that religions resist "better ways of living" assumes that everyone goes by your definition of "better ways", which is a BIG assumption to make. I bet a lot of cultures to whom spirituality and religion pay a central and positive part in their lives will not like your ideal of a society with less (or maybe no) religion. I'm not saying that religion is all good... I just think it's plain factually wrong of us to downplay its continuing relevance, significance and contribution to society, even as nonbelievers.

Education: By your apparent definition, will 'real progress' only be achieved if we stop educating students with teachers, pencils and paper? You speak of ONE kind of educational paradigm, but there are others that have been around for quite a while (e.g. the Montessori and Waldorf educational philosophies, not to mention non-Western forms of education). Education in the US alone has gone through immense social changes (remember segregated schools? What about that policy of sending Native American children to boarding schools to forget their own cultures and 'Americanize'?) and continues to be at the center of debates on policies and practice. The number of students of Latino descent will overtake those of European American descent within the next few decades. This has HUGE implications for how education will have to be provided and conducted (e.g. Spanish education will probably have to increase and they'll probably have to teach about more than just old white men in American history classes! Bring on the pre-Columbian history!).

Fashion: I suggest that fashion can also be viewed as an artform, a social statement, a vehicle of creative and social change, and an expression of culture and religion, to just name a few. And it doesn't have to JUST involve clothes! The Pink Ribbon movement for breast cancer awareness has exploded and now you can buy nearly ANYTHING in that fashionable and trademarked shade of pink. You see a clear change in what is considered "beautiful" if you look at high-fashion pictures across recent decades. Marilyn Monroe might've been the ideal in her era, but now it's boyish looks and unique bone structures. An even simpler example is the popularity of t-shirts with social and political messages. Now any kid with $20 can be involved with a socio-political movement just through the clothes they wear!

Food & health: The claim that "Food is cheaper, fresher and more convenient" depends on who you ask. The cheapest foods available to the lowest income brackets in the US tend to be the least healthy, with higher fat content and fewer nutrients (see: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov­/pubmed­/22424253 and www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov­/pubmed­/19394467). If you look at some of the most disadvantaged groups in the US, for example Native Americans on secluded and poor reservations, rates of preventable illnesses (heart disease, tuberculosis, etc.) and poor diets are truly shocking. Socioeconomic status is a major indicator of health in the US, which is troubling and shows that the country isn't so much of the "land of the free" but the land of those who have enough money to afford a good lifestyle. And sadly, this is a trend that has grown with more neoliberal economic policies that favor reducing state-provided welfare and lowering taxes for corporations and top-earners. However, even here, there is progress in people recognizing this as an economic issue that also affects the overall economic health of the country (income disparity is a strong predictor of economic recession). And hey, some progress happened in getting that healthcare bill passed, don't you think? I haven't even mentioned the medical advancements made in recent decades (we now have a vaccine for cervical cancer for goodness' sake!).

Cars: Again, I think we need to think BIGGER regarding the progress in cars. The two most populous countries on earth--India and China--have entered into the car production and ownership race. Not only will this have huge impacts on the countries themselves (we've already seen the dangerous air quality in Beijing that has directly resulted from an exploding private vehicle market), but they will also impact the rest of the world as they enter the global car market. And yes, safety standards for cars have increased, but this has probably been a result of increasing car ownership and a public demand for safety in increasingly powerful cars. Not to mention safety is an important marketing point to convince people to trust their loved ones in the statistically risky behavior of traveling by car. We could thus say there has been progress made in the worldwide acceptance of private car ownership, public perceptions of car safety and ways to market cars.

Planes: Sure, if you look at it from a consumer's perspective, not too much has changed about the act of flying... though mergers and advancements in technology have dramatically changed what goes on behind the scenes. Also, the recent explosion in airport security that you alluded to marks a HUGE change in our conception of safety during air travel and what it means to fly. And I guess we're not touching upon military developments and the use of drones as an area of progress?

Anyway, sorry about the tirade! I'm not trying to criticize you in particular... I just find these views quite common in tech and think the discussions would be more productive if these views were expanded and included more views from other fields like sociology and economics. :-)
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Ipad is not a computer its a tablet
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As much we would like to see the ipad take over the world it will fall as the netbook did in 2010 news.cnet.com­/8301­-17938­_105­-10421063­-1.html
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I disagree. Netbooks were never good at accomplishing anything. They were simply a poorly made bridge to get people thru a period of time before tablets were cheap enough and high quality enough to be useful for work and creation. The Netbooks resembles nothing that people used before it. iPad and other tablets resembled drawing pad, notebooks and in some cases, actual textbooks, so the form factor "fits in" with the evolution of technology enhancing our daily lives.
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its a limited toy that locked in a play pen that can never fulfill its possible potential as apple has the key an is not going to give it up
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Why is your entire post in bold? >.
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Have you never gotten spyware or a virus on your computer? That's why Apple holds the key.

If you would like to open up your apple device, there are plenty of websites that will help you jailbreak it. Lots of people jailbreak their devices, go ahead man, knock yourself out. If/when you brick it, you'll understand a bit more about why somethings are restricted.
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Why does Apple hold the key? it a toy that can be just thrown away when you done if you can't upgrade it then its very limited and does not have a future... that's why there's so many sales. we get tired easy of it and hope the next one will fill our need but it still doesn't.. not to mention it breck easy and the IOS hasn't been update since the first release a very tired OS very boring
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