What Kind of a Computer Is That?

on February 6, 2014


This is the question I get asked most when I use my current iPad set up in public. ((The case is the iPad Air Folio case from Zagg)). People see my iPad and keyboard set up and assume it is some new type of computer they haven’t seen before.
From the first day I started using the iPad I have used it with a keyboard and tried to use the solution for my day to day computer needs.  With each new iPad, version of iOS, and with each new keyboard solution, I noticed the iPad + keyboard combo beginning to get closer and closer to being used as a substitute for the vast majority of both my personal and my commercial computing needs. 

A Look Back at Commercial Computing to Personal Computing

I think it is often forgotten how Windows rose to dominance.  Microsoft, and their ecosystem partners, won over the enterprise by catering to those responsible for deploying and managing PCs in the workplace. Windows became the computing standard for the commercial market.  Then, as consumers began to want a PC of their own for home or personal use they purchased a Windows based one because it was the one they were the most familiar with. They brought Windows home with them you could say. It is worth bearing in mind that Windows was what they had to use at work not necessarily what they choose to use at home due to a genuine limit of choice. ((The Mac did not support many of the software platforms and consumers were familiar with and was too expensive to be mainstream.)) This is an important distinction that helps us understand what is happening in the market today now that consumers do have more personal computing choices available to them. 

What is in question today is not computing, or the future of computing, but Windows role in the future of computing. We are not watching the PC market contract because people don’t want a computer. Rather, consumers are choosing other products than traditional PC form factors to serve their basic computing needs.  

Note the below slide of my firms outlook for the next few years in these categories.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 9.58.27 AM

What is fascinating about what is happening with tablets is that consumers may not be choosing them as a PC replacement. In fact, I am certain this is not the case for most consumers, at least not yet.  They are choosing them for the very reason that Microsoft wants to mock them for.  They are choosing tablets because they primarily want to use them for consumption and entertainment.  Tablets are easy to use and they have fun and relax while using them. But what happens when they realize they can also use them for more productivity and creativity tasks? What happens when they realize the tablet is capable of the tasks they used to depend on their PC for?  What happens when they become aware, as I did, that a keyboard option (if you need it) can actually start serving their basic computing needs? What happens when they realize the touch interface and the software built for it is actually easier to use? Will they start doing more with this tablet? I believe the answer is yes.

I can’t talk about personal computing and not think about Microsoft’s role. The setup I am using could very well be considered a Windows based 2-1, like a Surface, by usage standards. In fact, often when I show people my iPad and keyboard setup they ask my why I didn’t choose a Surface. The answer is because I don’t need Windows for either my work or personal life.  How many other tablet owners have come to the realization that they don’t need Windows any longer? They already have a capable computing OS in their hands in the device they choose primarily as a consumption device.  When this settles in it could be industry changing for personal computing.  

What all of this hints at is that while there is a clear commercial computing application for the time being for Microsoft based solutions, there is a waining value proposition in personal computing (consumer) markets.  As more and more people find that their tablets with alternative operating systems to Windows meet most of their needs, the role–and value–of Windows diminishes.

During Microsoft’s rise, consumers brought Windows home with them. What should concern them about their future is that consumers are bringing iOS and Android devices to work with them.