The PC Landscape is About to Change – Here’s Why

Ben Bajarin / January 17th, 2012

One of my favorite quotes about change is:
“Life is a journey, and on a journey the scenery changes.”

The technology industry is also on a journey and on that journey the scenery will change. Whether many industry insiders recognize it or not the scenery is changing and it’s happening quickly.

The line is blurring between what is a PC and what isn’t. Devices like smart phones and tablets are proving to many that computing can take place on a number of different form factors. It is important for those who watch the personal computing industry closely to realize that the landscape as we know it is about to change drastically.

Tablets Take the Computing Challenge
It all began with the iPad. In as many times, in as many years, Apple again released a product that challenged the industry and forced many companies to turn introspective and re-think their product strategy.

The iPad has done quite a bit more than just challenge the industry, it has also challenged consumers to re-consider what exactly a personal computer is and what their needs are with one. What I mean by that is that our research is indicating that many consumers bought an iPad as a partial PC replacement. Meaning they were in the market for a new PC but instead bought an iPad, relegating their old PC as a backup for when they need a mouse and keyboard experience for certain tasks. What is interesting to the last point is that once integrating an iPad consumers realize they need the PC less and less for many tasks, especially when the iPad is paired with a keyboard. There are however, a few tasks like writing long emails or using certain software that these consumer still want a traditional mouse and keyboard experience for, only their observation is that those use cases do not occupy the majority of computing time for them on a regular basis. For that they remark the iPad suffices for their needs the majority of time.

As those in the industry who make PCs are already figuring out, tablets are a viable computing platform and having a tablet strategy is essential for anyone currently competing for PC market share.

We expect quite a bit of innovation in hardware, software, and services in the category over the next few years. Tablet / PC hybrids, which is a tablet with a detachable keyboard, could be one of the most interesting form factors we will see over the next few years. This product, if done right, will give consumers a two-in-one experience where they can have a tablet when they want it and a traditional mouse and keyboard experience when they want it, all in the same product. The big key – if done right.

Anyone Can Make PCs
Tim made the observation last week in his column that a fundamental issue within the technology industry is that the bulk of consumer product companies are simply chasing Apple rather than emerging as leaders themselves.

As companies look to duplicate the iPad and the MacBook Air this point becomes increasingly clear. What this creates is the opportunity for new entrants to create new and disruptive computing products by bringing fresh thinking to the computing landscape.

Perhaps a glimpse at this reality is Vizio’s announcement that they are getting into the personal computer game. With much of the hardware design for electronics moving into the hands of the ODMs, it makes it possible for anyone with a brand, channel, and cash to start making any number of personal electronics.

This is perhaps the biggest evidence about the change we are about to see in the PC landscape. The reality that the traditional companies, who were historically the leaders in this category may get displaced by new and emerging entrants.

Simply put, those who we expected to lead the PC industry may not be those who lead in the future. The truth is innovation does not stand still and if the traditional companies don’t want to do it someone else will.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio
  • Tayster

    “Simply put, those who we expected to lead the PC industry may not be those who lead in the future.”

    Dear Ben,

    Who did you expect to lead? Apple has led from the very, very beginning and continues to lead today. The number of technologies that Apple has brought to the market first is staggering. Are you not aware that Microsoft’s business model is to be a Fast Follower. They let everyone else innovate, wait a few years and see what works, then copy the best ideas. It has worked for Microsoft spectacularly. The danger is that they may wait too long and so the First Mover Advantage may be too much to overcome. They have walked this line throughout their history and this is their current problem in gaining any traction in the smartphone marketplace. Do you know anyone with a Microsoft phone? Have you ever even seen one? Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007 and has revolutionized the space. Microsoft plans to spend $100 million in advertising their phones this year. You will be seeing Microsoft phones everywhere at some point, but you can always expect Apple to lead the market.

    -Tayster

    • benbajarin

      Yes, I expect and still do expect Apple to continue to lead. My point, however, is that we need more fresh thinking. I fully understand that this is difficult for those who approach this industry with a PC only centric view point. This is why the broad point I am making is that I expect (hope) to see more leaders emerge from those who do not think like PC companies, and in essence aren’t PC companies but feel they have something fresh to bring.

      That is why I used the Vizio example. I expect fresh thinking to come from unexpected places.

      • Tayster

        Thank you for the reply. I now understand that when you said you expect others to lead, you meant that you wish others will lead. So let me say that you can expect Apple to lead, and you can wish as you wish.

        As your colleague Steve Wildstrom points out-
        “Innovation, especially in hardware, requires talent, imagination–and money. Apple’s cash hoard–by now over $100 billion–allows it to do things that competitors cannot even think about.”
        “But for the foreseeable future, expect Apple to expand its dominance.”
        http://techpinions.com/where-have-all-the-profits-gone-gone-to-apple-every-one/5092

        -Tayster

  • 1) Microsoft had a virtual operating system monopoly on PC computing.

    2) Apple realized that the tablet form factor required a touch operating system built from the ground up.

    3) Apps that run on a mouse driven operating system (like Windows and OS X) are INHERENTLY incompatible with those that run on a touch driving operating system. You can exchange data, but you cannot make a desktop and a tablet App that are “compatible”.

    4) The Windows monopoly does not extend to either the phone or the tablet. And since there is no need for a phone or a tablet to be Windows compatible, consumers are seeing less and less need to have their desktops be Windows compatible either.

    5) That one change alone – the end of the Windows operating system monopoly – will change everything. And that’s just for starters.

    • benbajarin

      All good points. I am pleased the Win-tel monopoly is falling. I do however still want there to be fresh competition and I am hoping Win 8 opens some doors for some interesting new players / devices.

      Touch computing posed the biggest problem in this area and I am hoping Win 8 brings touch in a new way to the Non-Apple camp. It will be on the Microsoft ecosystem players and hopefully some new entrants to bring us fresh thinking / innovation.

      Apple will of course continue on their own path, but for innovations sake, I hope we see it from others as well.

  • Kordov99

    now that Jobs is dead, innovation will come from the other Steve.. Balmer. Let’s see what Microsoft’s billions can come up with..

    • Fjfj49fj

      The ‘other Steve’ is a salesman, first and foremost. There will be innovation at Msft only if Ballmer has the sense to get out of the way. That is not a given.

  • Rudolf Charel

    Is not Visio simply copying Apple with their entry into the PC market? I expect more from innovation.

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