We are entering the “PC+” era, not a “post PC” era

Everywhere you look, there are articles and analysts celebrating the “post PC” era that we’re entering.  After all, with PC sales in decline and tablet shipments rising, we must be entering a new era, right?  Quite possibly, but I don’t see the new era as being one in which PCs are relegated to the sidelines as has-been devices.  In fact, I see the PC-experience as taking on new life in a multitude of new forms in what I prefer to call the PC+ Era.

History

For the past couple of decades, Microsoft and Intel/AMD have certainly been the kings of the PC world.  Microsoft provided an operating system while Intel and AMD provided processors.  Companies such as Dell and HP then built the complete system around these cornerstone components and sold the completed unit to the mass consumer and business bases.  It’s a business model that has seen a lot of money made by a lot of people over a lot of years.

Although there have been fringe elements that have attempted to make their way into this environment—think Apple and Linux—those efforts have been largely for naught, at least until recently.  In recent years, Apple has been able to make a pretty good sized dent in the market, capturing 7.3% of the space (OS X only; this does not include mobile).  Many attribute this success to the wild popularity of Apple’s iOS-based devices, including the iPad, the iPhone and the iPod.

That said, Microsoft still holds more than 90% market, at least by some estimates.

“End of the PC era”

There are many reasons that people point to when they indicate that we’re at the end of the PC era:

  • Apple’s ability to capture so much of the desktop market means that Windows’ popularity is waning.  Many consider this the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to PC dominance.
  • Apple and Google have captured almost the entire smartphone market while Microsoft continues to play catch up.  Smartphones have become the mobile platform of choice for many.
  • The market for the device that is supposed to kill the PC once and for all—the tablet—is all but owned by Apple, but also includes a number of smaller Android players, which, when aggregated, carry a large percentage of the market as well.
  • The cloud decouples software from the PC, making the access device largely irrelevant.  Now, applications can be accessed from a browser alone.

After reading about everything that’s stacked up against the PC, it seems as if the post-PC era is certainly upon us!

PC+ Era

There is, however, one minor issue.  If you look at this PC sales table, you’ll note that, while overall PC sales are in decline somewhat, it appears as if year over years estimates remain relatively flat between now and 2014.  That’s hardly what I’d call a Post-PC era.  For arguments sake, let’s make the assumption that PC sales have leveled off and that this is no longer a growth industry.  In that respect, it may not be as desirable a market for some suppliers, who may choose to spin their relatively low margin, stagnant PC lines off to others so that they can focus on higher growth areas.  But, we’re not seeing vendors simply stop making PCs and it doesn’t appear as if we’re going to see massive declines in the next few years.

What we are seeing is the addition of a multitude of additional devices all around the PC, augmented by a variety of cloud services intended to bring everything together.  Rather then simply ejecting the PC from the future, I see this era as one of PC+.  PC+ a smartphone, PC+ a tablet, PC+ a Mac and so forth.

One might looking at me and think I’m part of the post PC era due to my use of a MacBook Pro for my primary work.  While that’s true, I still have a PC at home, my wife has a separate PC at home and I run a Windows 8 virtual machine on my Mac so that I can access my mainstream applications.  While I’m not using a PC in this mode, I do need the PC-like experience.

Further, as we look at some industry trends, such as BYOD, we’re seeing other trends—such as VDI—that help allow organizations to untether themselves from the confines of the PC.  However, in peeling back the covers, we’re continuing to see that these VDI implementations are almost all running Windows in order to allow employees to support Windows-based workloads on just about any device.  While the device itself may not be a traditional PC, those PC-like workloads are continuing on into the future.  Moreover, we’re not seeing a lot of companies simply throw away their PCs in favor of BYOD.  BYOD is still seen as more of an add-on at this point… PC+ if you will.  In other words, an employee may still be issued a PC, but he may choose to augment this PC with an iPad or some other device.  That device runs the VDI client software that connects him to a corporate desktop image.

Windows 8 to the rescue?

It shouldn’t be forgotten that the formal release of Windows 8 is almost here and, with it, will come a slew of new tablet-based PC form factors and new opportunities for device manufacturers to differentiate themselves with their designs and capabilities.  Microsoft is late to the tablet game, but if they’re able to execute and they can manage to convince their partners to build quality devices, they may be able to avoid a major decline in PC shipments as a percentage of units sold.

We have yet to see what impact Windows 8 will ultimately have on PC sales.

In all fairness

Obviously, although PC sales have leveled off after rising for a number of years, they are likely to drop off as more people eschew fat clients for mobile tablets and get rid of their laptops in favor of Surfaces.  But, behind it all, IT organizations are continuing to deploy PCs at rates similar to the past.  Consumers may be favoring thinner, smaller devices, but many, many continue to purchase PCs as well as tablets and smartphones.

I do understand that marketing impact that “post PC era” implies.  For vendors with a vested interest in eliminating Windows and the PC, the phrasing is a good way into pushing customers into thinking that keeping their PCs around is akin to sticking with the past.  This fear-based motivator will eventually be uncovered for what it is and more reasonable hesds will prevail.

We’re hardly entering what we should be calling the “post PC era.”  That name implies that the PC has ben eliminated from the workplace and from the home.  The “PC+ era” implies that the PC has become one device among many that people choose to use.  It’s a more inclusive, more democratic era in Information Technology.

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  • virtualdan

    As for the home market there is a significant segment, DIYers, who enjoy building their own custom PCs, that won’t be letting go of their Wintel boxes anytime soon. Until another device lends itself to the DIY community the way the PC has, I don’t see it disappearing from the home anytime soon.

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  • http://info-tran.com/ Info Dave

    We didn’t call it the mainframe + era, did we? I guess we didn’t call it the post-mainframe era either, but the mainframe has been relegated to the less than noteworthy category for a few decades now. The PC faces a similar fate.

    It’s not so much the sales volume as it is the interest in the technology and its relevance. Software development is no longer focused on building Windows based solutions. As you say, PCs will continue to exist, but the interest is in mobile. All the attention will be focused on tablets and phones. We are definitely entering the Post-PC era.