The Next Big Challenge for the PC industry

By all accounts there are about 2.8 billion people on the planet that use technology and in various ways are connected to the Internet. One third connect via PCs while the other two thirds use smartphones, tablets and other connected devices that have sprung from the Post PC Era. What is quite interesting is that for the first 30 years of the PCs existence there was little innovation in user interfaces. PCs used mice and keyboards to navigate and interact with digital information. But by 2004 touch had been introduced in some very early tablets and smartphones and it took Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2007 to move touch into mainstream of user interfaces. Today all mobile devices use touch for navigation and input and with the introduction of Siri and Google Now, voice has entered the scene as another form of input.

As we move forward, the goal of the tech industry is to bring the next 1 billion on line by 2017-2018. But there will be a big difference this time when it comes to delivering new devices and services to this new crowd. This new age of users will not be burdened or even tied to legacy UI’s and apps from the past. While mice and keyboard will still be optional UIs for some, the majority of the new user will enter the connected world via new UIs that include touch, gestures, voice and even bio-senors that will be used by them to navigate the next Internet age. More importantly, I estimate that at least 80% of these new users will come in through some form of mobile device and that the PC and laptop will have very little interest to them.

The ramifications of this for the tech industry is huge. PC vendors of the past will have to adapt or they will die. I see Microsoft having the greatest risk in that they are so PC centric with so much legacy baggage that making this transition will be difficult. The problem with Win 8 is not the software, but users ambivalence. Unless you are a business user tied to their apps, Win 8 and its lack of apps has little appeal to the mass market. Also, Android and IOS more than deliver what most people need and will continue to rule the OS world of this new digital era.

The biggest challenge though is two fold. The first is related to user interfaces. Mice and keyboards will have minimal interest to these next billion users. The majority of these folks will come in through mobile devices of the Post PC era. That means touch is the new “keyboard” and perhaps gestures is the new “mouse” for these folks. We also see voice playing a more important role in UI’s for the next billion users although perfecting this by 2017-2018 is not very likely. Siri and Google Now show voice’s functionality today to a point but for voice to be integral to the mobile experience it will need better speech to text recognition and more powerful voice accuracy for it to be really useful as a future UI.

The second thing that will need to be in place is a powerful service’s engine that ties these next billion users devices to the cloud and makes interacting with the cloud and their devices easy to do and seamless. Of course, the cloud based apps, synchronization, storage and communications layers have to work harmoniously too. Apple, Google and Amazon have a huge lead in this space and it will be difficult for others to keep up. On the other hand we are talking about a billion new users throughout the world and there is great opportunity to create regional versions of these services as well as deduced devices just for these regions too. The idea of one size fits all won’t work for the next billion users who will want variety in hardware and services.

I see the next two years as pivotal for all of the major players in the PC and CE industry. For the PC vendors, they have to move on and think of their PC business more in terms of a mature market that needs to be kept steady. There is still room to make money and innovate in PC’s and laptops but it will never be a growth market again. Instead they need to focus on mobile products and services that meet the actual needs of these next billion users and put serious R&D into innovating around these new computing paradigms. For the Telecom industry, breadth will be important. They too need to keep investing in building out networks, making them faster and secure to stay competitive but also expand their reach. Sprints move to buy TMobile is a good example of this. They also need to bulk up their services offerings. As for the CE companies, they have to add Internet connections to the majority of the devices they make. Gone are the days when most CE devices are islands unto themselves. They need to think connectivity and sensors and move to make most of the products they make smart. This goes for devices for the home, cameras, TV’s and even toys.

Also, all of these industries need to invest heavily in new user interfaces for their devices in the post PC era. The next billion users will demand a whole host of new ways to communicate and interact with their digital products and ultimately I see this as one of the tech industry’s biggest challenges in the near future. The good news is that there are at least another billion people clamoring to become part of the digital revolution. However, for them to come to the digital party the tech companies have to readjust their thinking about what it will take to interest and reach these new users with their brands and services and invest accordingly if they want to be a company that interests the next billion people who will come online in the next 3 to 4 years.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

4 thoughts on “The Next Big Challenge for the PC industry”

  1. All well and good as long as the most limited platform isn’t somehow impeding the most capable platform, or the web itself.

    1. It seems that the web will always be available as a fallback. What you lose in functionality you gain in flexibility and open access with web applications. That seems like a good trade off to me. Apps for ease of use and hardware specific functionality with the web for everything else.

      1. I agree with the web being a fallback for apps. What I didn’t do is express myself more clearly. What I meant was…As long as the weaker platform doesn’t hold back the web.
        Look at what happened with Flash, for instance. Or Java. I don’t want a weak platform, or a single vendors policy, to inhibit their development, or those of other technologies. Only the “desktop web” is consistent with the original web philosophy.

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