The PC Industry of the Past Is Not the PC Industry of the Future

on April 19, 2013

We are, without question, an industry in transition. The 500 lb. gorillas who once dominated the technology industry are experiencing and undergoing major transitions and a new type of growing pain. And for many, this is extremley painful. These titans will rise or fall based solely on their ability to manage this transition and these new types of growing pains. So what is growing exactly? The opportunity.

From Business to Consumer

For the past 30 years, the computing industry only appealed to a small group of people–namely the business community. Many companies from Microsoft, IBM, Dell, HP, Intel, RIM, etc., got their start bycreating products and solving problems for a business user. What many of these companies are learning is that business users are as different as night and day than ordinary consumers. In fact, I specifically peg Apple’s turnaround to this observation. Apple has and always will be a consumer company. They simply struggled until there was a true consumer market. Now they find success where others have not simply because they have always had a vision of creating products for ordinary folk. Apple simply had to wait more than two decades for their true market to emerge. Now, emerge it has and it is billions strong.

A key point signaling this shift was the recent news about the PCs decline in Q1 sales. Who usually bought PCs in bulk in the first half of the year? It wasn’t consumers. It was businesses. In years past the bulk purchases of enterprise and business buyers helped offset the lack of consumer spending for PCs in this buying cycle. With business shifting to BYOD, it’s doubtful the first half of the year will yield the volumes it once did. What we are witnessing in clamshell PC sales is not really massive declines. It is simply the new normal.

The consumer market will dwarf the business/pro market by magnitudes. The PC industry of the past, is not the PC industry of the future. The opportunity has shifted from business to consumer and it is growing faster than many anticipated. Many were not prepared and the pain of this reality has been life changing for all PC vendors.

From Stationary to Mobile

We were not meant to sit at desks. Yet that is exactly the paradigm that desktops and notebooks brought. Innovations around mobile devices are among the most important innovations for the PC industry of the future. When we first learn to ride a bike we don’t just sit on it and not move. We take it out and explore the world. Smartphones and tablets deliver on a truly mobile computing vision and we are barely scratching the surface of mobile computing. There is still massive software innovation ahead and we still don’t have devices that truly know anything about us. Anyone who believes innovation is dead is wrong and lacks vision. We still have billions of new customers to bring into the digital age and they want innovative products, Many that have not even been invented yet.

At the moment, we are in an adoption cycle phase, not an innovation phase. Why should we expect revolutionary new smartphones, for example, when half the planet doesn’t even have their first smartphone? Do we expect revolutionary new cars every year or even every few? Until the advancements of hybrid technology the industry had hardly changed in decades. People don’t freak out and scream about the collapse of Toyota because they don’t release a revolutionary new car every few years. It’s not a perfect analogy, I admit, but I do believe the consumer market for automobiles brings out applicable insights for the PC industry of the future.

The companies I am not worried about and the ones who will be in the PC industry of the future understand mobilility and understand consumer markets. Right now that is a very short list.

This is also the crux for many who are experiencing growing pains. They have the wrong definition of mobile computing. Couple that with a lack of understanding of consumer markets and it is bad news for the traditional PC vendors unless they really get the mobile religion and deliver mobile products that meet the needs of all their current and future customers.