The Decentralization of the PC

on December 30, 2013

I’ve been trying to figure out a better way to articulate what is happening in the multi-screen era we have shifted to. I say shifting because there are many markets where one screen still dominates most consumers connected experiences. What is fascinating about those markets is that it is a mobile device which is the primary computing device not a PC with a mouse and keyboard designed to be used in a fixed or stationary setting. But in many western markets growing numbers of consumers are using multiple screens in collaboration with each other.

I’ve never liked the term “post-PC.” Primarily because in many western markets the mouse and keyboard PC is still being used in conduction with other connected devices. The term post-PC gets has carried with it a tone which de-emphasizes the role of the PC more than it should. The other term we have used, which I no longer like, is the PC plus era. This term emphasized that the mouse and keyboard PC was still relevant but also puts too much emphasis back on the mouse and keyboard PC for my liking.

The best way to understand what the computing shift which is happening is that the PC has been decentralized. Prior to our smartphones and tablets, the PC was the center of our computing universe. I vividly remember Macworld in 2001 where Steve Jobs eloquently positioned the Mac as the center of consumers digital lives. For nearly a decade this was true for many computer users. Everything revolved around the PC and was an accessory to the PC.

This is no longer the case. Think about the last time you physically–with a wire–connected your smartphone or tablet to your PC? I honestly think its been at least a year since I plugged in my iPhone, iPad, or even my DSLR with physical wire to my PC.

The decentralization of the PC has become even more evident to me in the past few years. Being that I’m the most technical person in my immediate and extended family I’m generally the person who fixes PCs for family members. For the better part of the past decade I can’t remember a family gathering around the holidays at someone else’s house where I wasn’t asked to take a look at what was wrong with someones Windows PC. Yet over the past few years, I’ve noticed those requests have shifted from fixing Windows notebooks or desktops to showing tips or tricks of things to do with their iOS or Android devices.

What is key to internalize about this shift and the decentralizing of the PC is that it is being led by mobility. We have noticed this shift with every advance in computing. Notebooks overtook desktops as the dominant computing form factor and now smartphones and tablets are overtaking Notebooks as primary compute devices as a percentage of computing time for many (especially if we take a worldwide view of the market). ((In fact, more people are actively online with mobile devices that PCs on a worldwide level.))

The center is now mobile. The mobile market is bigger than the PC market. The mobile Internet is bigger than the desktop Internet. The mobile Internet is the first class citizen and the desktop Internet is secondary to it. ((Yes I include tablets in the mobile Internet discussion.)) The world is already mobile. The PC will still live on and sell hundreds of millions of units annually while mobile devices will grow and sell billions of devices annually. Each plays a role as a part of a computing solution. The cloud will keep all our devices in sync, allowing us to choose any number of screen size and form factor combinations as a part of any individual computing solution.

Mobile computing devices will become more powerful and more capable. This reality will continually challenge legacy devices that require a consumer be stationary to get the full value of the product. The share of compute time is already shifting from fixed to mobile devices and this reality is upon us. The PC has been decentralized and mobile is the new center.

What is interesting to ponder is if there is still a shift to happen that can decentralize the smartphone.