What it is: Technical specifications aren’t as important as the purpose of the computer in the form factor that it’s in.
Here’s the wrong way to measure the capability of a computer. Look at technical specifications and conclude that whatever product has the most technical specification must be superior.
That’s the way tech-savvy users compare products and then based on the laundry list of technical features crammed into a product, the winner is the one with the most technical features.
That’s one criteria for measuring superiority, but it neglects the purpose of a product in the first place. People can’t use technical specifications, but they can use the features that technical specifications represent.
What’s the difference between a 2.5GHz processor and a 2.7GHz processor? Ideally, the faster processor means the computer will be more responsive, but that tiny difference probably won’t be noticeable to most people except those doing computer-intensive activities like video editing or mathematical calculations. For most people, technical specifications serve only to confuse instead of clarifying their options.
Instead of worrying about deciphering the cryptic technical jargon of specifications, it’s better to look at how you’ll use a computer. For a desktop or laptop computer, you’ll likely spend hours using them at one time. For tablets, mobility is far more important so people tend to spend far less time working on a tablet per session than working on a laptop.
Think of a restaurant letting you sign your name on an iPad to pay by credit card. That interaction takes a minute or so at the most. Where desktop and laptop PC usage can be measured in hours per session, tablet usage is more geared towards minutes per session.
Smartphones are similar to tablets in that people use them for tasks that need to be completed within minutes, not hours. Most people glance at the weather, maps, or stock reports on a smartphone and put it away a minute or so later. You may browse the Internet or read an e-book, but it’s usually not for hours at a time.
Smartwatches are geared for even less time, measured in seconds such as making a payment through Apple Pay, opening a locked hotel room door, or glancing at a text message. You probably wouldn’t want to compose a letter on an Apple Watch but you also wouldn’t want to boot up a PC just to glance at the time or see if someone sent you a message.
By differentiating products by time, not technical specifications, you can truly see the advantage of each type of product. You’ll likely sit down for a long period of time to use a laptop, but you’ll rarely carry a laptop with you at all times just to look at weather forecasts or driving conditions. For short interactions, smartphones and tablets are better. For even shorter interactions, smartwatches are better still.
Within this time frame, you can see how to solve unique problems. PCs are good for solving problems that require time such as designing a brochure in a desktop publishing program or writing a business report.
Tablets and smartphones are best for interactions that require minutes at a time, such as glancing at driving directions or checking the stock market. Smart watches are even better at tasks that involve seconds such as opening a locked car. Technical capabilities matter less than the time element of the problem they’re trying to solve.
If you’re thinking of developing software, think of the time element between different devices. You’re far more likely to create documents on a PC, but you could edit them on a smartphone or tablet. You likely would never edit a document on a smartwatch because it’s not geared for interactions longer than a minute.
Smart developers know that the form factor and time element determines the usefulness of their software running on PCs, smartphones, tablets, and smart watches. It’s this time element for solving tasks that determine the real usefulness of products, not pointless technical specifications. Nobody cares how fast a processor might be. Everyone cares how responsive their computer may be whether it’s a PC, a smartphone, a tablet, or a smart watch.
Seconds (smart watches), minutes (smartphones and tablets), and hours (PCs) define the real differentiation between computers. When you can understand this factor, you’ll likely better understand why you might need (or not need) any of these different types of computers in the future.