Family Feud: What is a computer?

Discussion in 'Apple, Inc and Tech Industry' started by ArtOfWarfare, May 8, 2008.

  1. ArtOfWarfare macrumors G3


    Nov 26, 2007
    So... at what point do people stop calling a certain product a computer?

    What is it that most people define as a computer?

    Because technically, isn't an iPod or Wii a computer too?

    But people rarely refer to them as such.

    So I'm wondering, what do most people define as a computer?

    Does it need a keyboard?

    Then why isn't the iPod Touch a computer? It has a keyboard.

    Is it the mouse? Then why do we have things called "touch screen computers" which clearly don't have mouses. And actually, generally they don't have keyboards either. And the Surface. Will people call it a computer?

    Personally, I think the thing you need is... Flexible Usability (and easy to flex.) The interface can be changed quite easily. It can be used infinitely different ways. Basically the users creativity is the only limiting factor. But that's just how I define it. And by that definition, I call the iPod Touch and the iPhone a computer. (or at least they will be once they get the SDK.) But what do other people define them as? Is it just when the product is revealed, whether or not it's announced to be a computer? If Steve Jobs had instead revealed the iPod Touch as being a tiny, portable, Mac with a touchscreen, would people be referring to it as a computer instead of an iPod (or iTouch...)

    Edit: What got me to start wondering this is when I thought, "That Wiimote like device is going to be used on an all new product. It won't be a computer." and then I asked myself, why won't it be a computer? And now I think it probably will be a computer. I think they'll likely have a new iMac with the infarred lights that comes with this new remote/mouse... their other computers will come packaged with a separate light bar you can attach to your computer screen. (Maybe the cinema displays will have the lights built in too.)
  2. notjustjay macrumors 603


    Sep 19, 2003
    Canada, eh?
    A good question.

    I look at a computer as a device with inputs and outputs that can process a Turing-complete instruction set to do meaningful things with such inputs and outputs. Though, that's probably a bit broad.

    We look at a lot of devices today and don't think to call them "computers" even though they have those same capabilities. The iPod, for example, or a calculator or wristwatch. DVD players use signal processing chips to decode video. Even TVs come with circuitry to process digital signals. Cars use signal processors. Microwaves too.

    Perhaps the distinction between a "computer" and an electronic device is that the computer is multi-functional and user-programmable. A microwave or a toaster has only one function, e.g. you will never be able to get them to play music. Whereas a laptop can do anything you want it to do, provided you have the right software and/or plug in the right hardware.
  3. ZiggyPastorius macrumors 68040


    Sep 16, 2007
    Berklee College of Music
    I would have to agree with a lot of the points here...I think a lot of it really is the package in which it's delivered. While an iPhone may run off basically the same OS and stuff like that, it's still a phone, not a computer...though you could call it a computer if you wanted to. Essentially, it really doesn't even matter anymore. Basically everything is "computerised" now, so it really comes down to whatever the hell you want to call a computer.

    Actually, my friend argued with my one day about whether or not Macs are computers. The argument went something like this:

    Him: It's not a computer.
    Me: How is it not a computer? It does all the same stuff.
    Him: It's not a computer, though, it's a Mac.
    Me: So a Dell XPS is not a computer, it's an XPS?
    Him: No, it's a computer.
    Me: Then how is my Macbook not a computer?

    et cetera :p
  4. ArtOfWarfare thread starter macrumors G3


    Nov 26, 2007
    Well I could call my iMac a phone too. It has skype on it.

    ... I think I now have a definition for what a computer is...

    More than just being programable, you can write programs for it on it.

    Like you can write programs for your iMac on your iMac.

    Except of course now this throws out what people used to call computers... those room sized things that you had to punch holes in paper to program them.
  5. notjustjay macrumors 603


    Sep 19, 2003
    Canada, eh?
    Yeah, I wouldn't necessarily stipulate that you have to be able to use the device itself to program it. A programmable multi-purpose device is more or less the definition that I'd go by. Yes, that means something like the iPhone, or a Palm PDA, qualifies as a computer... a specialized one. You could argue that a Palm or iPhone can be classified as a portable computer. We just call it a "phone" out of tradition and based on its primary intended function.
  6. NP3 macrumors regular

    Jul 12, 2003
    Los Angeles
    an electronic device for storing and processing data, typically in binary form, according to instructions given to it in a variable program.

    BUT I would say all those devices listed fall under the 'traditional' definition of a 'computer.'

    People who are computer stupid and ignorant like to make comments like 'macs aren't computers'.

    Elderly people somehow get it grandparents call my iphone a 'phone', yet my laptop is a computer.

    With digital convergence happening sooo rapidly, its hard to pick things apart. I say these old definitions (such as the one above) need to be thrown out.
  7. remmy macrumors 6502a

    Jul 1, 2007
    I would put what you define something as the reason it was produced.

    the iphone is made to be used as a phone, ipod touch has been made to be play music, although both are very similar the reason people by them and that they were designed are slightly different.

    This means though that you start to get marketing jargon thrown in calling an item a portable entertainment communication device which is just annoying.
  8. LizKat macrumors 601


    Aug 5, 2004
    Catskill Mountains
    Yeh, marketing jargon is so abrasive. Some marketer in the Pentagon came up with calling civilian deaths "collateral damage"...

    I just call stuff that's at least marginally a computer a "computing device." To me, that potentially includes an entertainment option. I like it better than calling an iPod touch a PDA or an iPhone a smartphone.

    As for "portable entertainment communication device"... What is that, a tin whistle?

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