Computing’s S-Curve

on May 7, 2014

Last month, Benedict Evans wrote a great post talking about unfair comparisons. He faced some criticism for comparing PC market sales to smartphone market sales. Many claimed it was unfair. What if Benedict’s comparison actually isn’t unfair? What if comparing PCs to smartphones is exactly the right comparison to make?

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 3.47.57 PM

The takeaway from this slide is that one segment is shrinking while one is growing. Those with a PC bias will point out the limitations of a smartphone; highlighting what it can’t do according to their bias and use that argument as a basis to state comparing the growth rates of PCs to smartphones is unfair and irrelevant. When in reality neither are true.

The journey of computing has been from big to small and from complex to simple. Computers started in a giant room and are now in our pockets. Computers which used to require many hours of training to become literate (and many used them and never ever became computer literate) are now operated by toddlers.

So enters the next era of computing. It is computing in the post-modern world. It leads us to computing’s s-curve.


The reason comparing PCs to smartphones is not unfair is, for hundreds of millions of people and soon to be a billion people, the pocket computer is their only computer. For them, this is their starting point. But will it be their end point? For many in the PC era, a desktop or notebook PC was the starting point and, to a degree, the smartphone was their end point. As you can see in the chart above, computing is moving forward and is now finally being adopted by the masses in handheld form.

Computing’s history up to this point has been defined and shaped by stationary computers. Tomorrow will be shaped by pervasively connected, context aware, artificially intelligent computers that fit in our hands and pockets. As crazy as it sounds with today’s modern technology, we will look back in 20 years and this era will look like the Stone Ages.

Comparing the sales of smartphones to PC is not just a relevant comparison, it is THE comparison. Mobile is king. People don’t want to be tethered. Those with a PC bias will make the claim the smartphone has limitations – which is true. However, the PC also has limitations, and those limitations are the reason the market size for PCs is smaller than of smartphones. The PC represents the capabilities of what you can do with a computer when stationary and the smartphone represents the capabilities of what you can do when mobile. While both evolve on parallel paths, the size of the market for one is bigger than the other. It is a simple as that. More people value the capabilities of mobile computing than they do of stationary computer regardless of perceived limitations. For many, those limitations are computing enablers.

What the future is we don’t know. What’s beyond a smartphone? A valid question is not only what a smartphone will be in the future but what a computer will be in the future?

On June 4th, in San Francisco, Horace Deidu of Asymco, myself and others are putting on an executive summit called Post Modern Computing. If having a deep dive of the key points in technology history that got us where we are today and where it may all go tomorrow is interesting to you, then I encourage you to learn more at Seats are extremely limited.