The PC is Not Dead

on July 30, 2012

I chose this title because so many still associate the term PC with a notebook or desktop computing form factor. Let me first start by re-affirming my conviction that tablets as well as smartphones are in fact personal computers. The reality is that consumers are using a multitude of devices to accomplish what we have always considered computing.

It is no secret that I am bullish on tablets growth potential. With all the data I am seeing around consumer adoption of tablets world wide, it is hard not to be. But my perspective on the tablet form factor has always been that the tablet, and even to some degree the smartphone, does not replace a computer with a larger screen like a desktop or notebook. Rather these other devices simply take time and even some tasks away from the classic PC.

I still believe consumers will own computing devices with larger screens, more processing power, more storage, etc. However, the big struggle many in the industry are facing is the reality that the classic PC is no longer the only device in consumers lives. When the category for notebooks was a huge growth segment, it was being driven by two things. First, the fact that the category was maturing and prices were coming down. Second, because notebooks were the only mobile personal computers in consumers lives. All of this has been turned on its head with tablets and with smartphones to a degree.

The perspective that needs to be emphasized on this topic is that although the classic PC is not going away, its role is changing.

There is No Longer a Dominant Screen

The classic PC for many years was what we liked to call the “hub of the digital lifestyle.” It was the primary screen used for computing tasks in consumers lives. Other devices like iPods and early smartphones for example, had a level of dependence on the notebook or desktop. Even when the iPad first came out this philosophy was employed and was dependent on the PC to an extent. The desktop or notebook was the center and other devices revolved around them in this role. This is no longer the case for many and will soon no longer be the case for the masses. As more consumers fragment their computing tasks to be done on a number of screens, each screen will find a role as a part of a holistic computing solution.

The Cloud Becomes the Center

Although no single screen becomes the center of a consumers computing lifestyle, another solution takes the place. And that is the cloud. Personal clouds will be the glue that tie all our devices together. This is clearly evident with Apple’s latest OS release OS X Mountain Lion. This is the first classic PC OS which embraces the paradigm I just described, where no single computing device is the dominant screen. Many of the same apps, the same data, the same media, all available on every Apple screen.

Whatever screen is the most convenient for a consumer to use to look at an email, answer an email, browse the web, watch a movie, listen to music, check Facebook etc., at the exact time they want to do it, is the right screen for the job. The important word here to understand is convenience. Our research shows that people grab the screen that is closest or easiest to access to do a task the second they want to do it.

If I am in line at Disneyland and I want to do the above tasks, then my smartphones becomes the right screen for the job. If I am on the couch with my tablet near me, then it becomes the right screen for the job. If I am sitting at my desk with my notebook or desktop then it becomes the right screen for the job.

The beautiful thing about OS X Mountain Lion is that it enables and even encourages this computing philosophy I just described. Which is:

– let the consumer choose the right screen for the job
– make sure they have access to any and all programs, documents, and media
– anytime, anywhere, on any Apple device
– so that no matter which of their Apple screens they have or choose to use, IT becomes the right screen for the job.

This is the beauty of the cloud and the clouds role as the center of our personal computing infrastructure.

The classic PC used to be the center to which other screens depended on. But now that role as shifted to the cloud. This reality, not just tablets, is what is disrupting the classic PC.

The market is embracing this concept of screens (whether they know it or not) and will soon be conditioned to depend on the cloud rather than any one screen. It is for this reason, that in Apple’s case, iCloud is just as important of a platform as iOS and OS X. Other platform and hardware providers need to confront this reality and find their place in it.

The Classic PC Still Plays a Role

This is why I am emphasizing that the classic PC still plays a role. It does not go away but its role does change and, perhaps more importantly for hardware companies, the classic PC lifecycle has changed. Some hardware manufacturers may emphasize its role more than others. Some software platforms may embrace its role more than others.

Consumers will not abandon the classic PC. Because of this role change in classic PC usages, I believe some classic PC manufacturers will be confronted with some very challenging pricing economics in the very near future. (More on this in a later column)

My conclusion, however, is that anyone who does not have a clear focus on the cloud as the center and has a weak strategy for the rapidly changing role of hardware is headed for some very rough waters.