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Steve Jobs is a national treasure but PC makers “keep on truckin”

I don’t always agree with Steve Jobs, especially with the level of control Apple exerts over iPhone and iPad developers. But that doesn’t change the fact that the man is a national treasure. When the history of the 20th and 21st centuries is written in stone, I have no doubt that Jobs will take his place along with Albert Einstein and Henry Ford.

I was reminded of that last week as I sat in the audience at the D: All Things Digital conference in Rancho Palos Verdes while co-hosts Walter Mossberg and Kara Swisher interviewed him for about an hour and a half.

In the course of his career, Jobs has revolutionized several industries. Along with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, he was a pioneer in the personal computer industry with the first highly customizable PC. Through Pixar and now Disney, he’s been a major force in the motion picture industry. And, through iTunes, Jobs has had an enormous impact on the music industry. The iPhone changed the cell phone industry and it looks like the iPad will have an enormous impact on the PC business and the business of delivering content.

During his interview at D, Jobs said that he hopes the iPad will empower newspaper publishers to generate revenue from online sales of their publications, arguing that “democracy depends on a free press” and that he doesn’t “want to see us descend into a nation of bloggers.” If he succeeds here, we can add one more industry to the list.

Jobs said that he

thinks he has “the best job in the world” because he works with creative people, and that Apple operates like a startup. “One of the keys to Apple is that Apple is an incredibly collaborative company,” he said. “We have zero committees at Apple.”

One of the most interesting aspects of his talk was his prediction that the PC, as we know it, is in its waning years. He said tablet devices like the iPad are likely to take over as consumer devices. “When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks because that’s what you needed on the farm,” he said by analogy. He sees PCs as the “trucks” that will be replaced with the more consumer-friendly tablets, which he likens to cars.

The analogy makes some sense. But before you sell PC companies short, consider that trucks are still a very viable business. Sure, not everyone needs one, but even in Silicon Valley I see quite a few of them on the road. When you go to the Midwest, the South and even nonurban parts of California, you see lots of trucks. That’s because millions of people make their living doing things that require a truck, just as millions of people make their living doing things that require a PC. And just as people buy trucks for recreational or personal use, plenty of creative people will want to continue to use PCs for personal use as well.

I’m writing this column from the D press room using my laptop, even though I have an iPad with me. I use the iPad to take notes, read e-mail, read books and watch video, but I don’t use it to write articles, edit video or record my radio segments for CBS News. For those activities, I need a “truck.” Sure, it’s possible that the iPad can evolve as a tool for productive work, but — for now at least — it’s mostly a consumption device.

DreamWorks CEO Jeffery Katzenberg, during his presentation at D, practically swooned over the iPad. Steve Jobs’ “greatest accomplishment will be this tablet,” he said. Katzenberg called the laptop “yesterday’s news” and said he no longer uses one.

I can see how Katzenberg, as a studio head, could replace his PC, assuming he’s mostly using it to watch video, read scripts and type relatively short responses to e-mail messages he reads on the screen. But for those who write the scripts and edit the movies he produces, PCs and graphic workstations will continue to be the tools of choice for the foreseeable future.

So, Mr. Jobs, thanks for the iPad and keep up the good work. But no matter how successful tablet devices like the iPad become, I have three words for the rest of the industry: “Keep on truckin’.”

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