What is Personal Computing in the Post PC Era?

Apr 14, 2011
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What is Personal Computing in the Post PC Era?

Several reports have come out today from Gartner and IDC taking a look at the state of the PC market so far this year. Even though we are only into the second quarter it appears the declines in the overall market for PCs predicted earlier in the year are coming to fruition. So what does this mean, is the world ending? Or perhaps there is something bigger afoot?

Tablets are Part of the Cause

Most if not all of my analyst colleagues agree that tablets are playing a role in declining PC shipments. The extent of the role tablets are playing is where we may disagree. I spoke with my friend Richard Shim who is a SR Analyst at Display Search. His point is that tablets are a convenient factor to blame notebook and desktop declines on but the reality is tablets represent a "convenient computing" solution and aren't replacements for notebooks or desktops quite yet.

Another factor he pointed to is the point of maturation of the market for notebooks and desktops. Richard said  "Consumers and enterprises are looking to extend the life of their purchases, this is a sign of a highly mature market." I couldn't agree more and in our own research we have found that on average consumers are now holding onto their notebooks an average of 4+ years.

One of the conclusions that needs to be drawn by market researchers is that the shipment volumes WW of notebooks and desktops alone does not represent a holistic view of the overall market growth. Primarily because what a personal computer is or was, is in the process of being re-defined.

More things becomes PC's in the Post PC Era

There is a fascinating technological shift that is happening right before our eyes. For us who study and research these things we take notice and analyze every detail. For the end consumer however they are mostly oblivious to the shift in computing we are seeing.

The shift I am speaking of is this, more things are becoming PCs or more accurately personal computing as a whole is expanding into new form factors and devices. For example if we define browsing the web as an element of computing then many devices can incorporate this experience. However the experience alone does not define the device.

To make this point I spoke with my friend Leslie Fiering who is a Research VP at Gartner. Leslie's point is that we can't define a PC as the ugly box that sits on your desk or the 12-14" clamshell device in your briefcase, not even the tablet on your coffee table or nightstand. Her comment was this:

"What it if it's all of them?  You choose which one to use based on proximity for the task at hand. Your data is synchronized in the cloud or via a virtualized "portable personality" that can move from device to device.  Wireless video complicates the situation even further since the CPU of one device might run the screen of another."

She then added:

"In this scenario, is PC market share declining?  Maybe there is movement away from one form factor toward another.  But the idea of personal computing is not going away.  If anything, it is getting more robust and less constrained."

This Begs a Question

So the question I want to leave you with is this: What if in the future there is not one central device (i.e a notebook or a desktop) to which computing is limited? Rather the computing experience we all know and love will be accomplished by many devices that make up a holistic computing experience.


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