The PC is one step away from extinction

Why own a PC when a smaller, more convenient mobile device will do

For quite some time now, mobile devices have competed directly against PCs for market share across enterprises. But it’s no longer a fair fight, more of a total beating thanks to a market that is awash with innovative mobile devices perfect for corporate use.

People are now questioning why they should have a PC at all when a smaller, more convenient, smaller device will do.

Poor old man PC will continue to lose until it eventually becomes a business niche product. This will result in a short term drop in PC pricing to move existing surplus, but the longer term result could well see PC prices going back up.

The last five years has seen an unprecedented shift of power from PC to mobile, and from operating system vendors to software developers. The PC, at least in its present form, may well be dead.

Several years ago, IBM was criticised for selling its PC business to Chinese giant Lenovo. But now it seems that was the right thing to do.

Around 1.07 million PC were sold in Australia in Q1 this year, a 21 per cent year-on-year decline, according to IDC. In July, IDC predicted the pain would continue with a decline of 15 per cent this year over 2012.

Compare the PC market decline to the rise of smartphones. By 2018, Frost & Sullivan believes most of us aged between 15 and 65 will own a smartphone. In fact, 73 per cent of us already do.

Every week, there is a new mobile, cloud-based device moving into the market, shifting the focus of the traditional PC/software consumer. More than 80 per cent of a PC’s functions are available on a smartphone. Many people are only keeping the PC around because they need it to update their mobile device or edit media.

So why upgrade or buy a new PC if it only caters for 20 per cent of my functional use?

Even the workplace is evolving into a more mobile environment, with tablets and smart phones changing the way we operate in the information industry, and PCs moving away from traditional storage and applications into more cloud-based products.

Obviously, there is still a requirement for high-end computing. In the corporate world, graphical requirements, media management, document creation and control will help PCs stay around a little longer.

However, it’s plausible that PC will be relegated to the “war horse” stable - required only for certain people in certain industries.

Schools are also contributing to the PC market’s inevitable demise. This year, my son’s school allocated tablets to each student, instead of the usual laptop they were given in the past. Many schools are following this pattern, replacing PCs and laptops with tablets and smart devices.

As most schools have a 3 to 5 year PC replacement cycle, we are yet to see the full effect of this change from traditional PC learning. Taking that one step further, if the students of today are using tablets at school, the workers of tomorrow are not going to want anything less.

Operating systems are another casualty of the mobile boom. With the swift uptake of mobile apps, operating systems such as Linux, Unix, and even the goliath of operating systems Microsoft Windows, may be on the cusp of becoming redundant.

You may remember in 1997, Microsoft’s former CTO, Nathan Myhrvold famously said in Wired Magazine, “Apple is already dead.”

Ironically, in an almost comical turn of events, the once mega operating system and software provider, which is heavily reliant on PC sales, is trying to catch up to its supposedly dead little cousin.

But that’s another story. No matter how you look at it, the PC’s days of dominance are gone. Extinction is looming.

Rodney Byfield is the CIO at Metro Tasmania, a large passenger transport organisation in Tasmania. His blog, “Singular CIO”, is at www.aussieicon.com.

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