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Is the PC really dead and Microsoft screwed?

April 30th, 2013 by Karl

Ever since the Ipad came out, I’ve been hearing “The PC is dead.” and we are in the “Post PC Era.” and with very poor PC sales that sentiment could seem somewhat true. However the PC is far from dead. I think its true to say that from a market position growth and revenue from traditional PCs is very challenged and that may not turn around soon, or even ever, but PC’s are far from dead.

What is the reason for this slump? Is it mobile, the tablet, or mistakes by Microsoft or something else? Well of course no simplified model is going to give you an answer, and nobody will really know but there are factors we can reason about.

PC’s are a victim of their own success. The market has reached a good dead of saturation, and they are sufficiently powerful for most people for most uses to the point that there isn’t as much of a desire or need to upgrade or replace them as frequently. This is true both for individual consumers as well as companies. Many companies new PC refresh cycle is 5 years, so many people may be using the same PC they were using before the tablet market exploded in 2011.

So with this saturation, and sufficiency of existing desktops, its easy to see that the consumer demand can go more for mobile + tablet, and less for PCs because people already are having PCs. In a way I’m sure people have and use conventional ovens to the same degree or more than microwave ovens, but its likely the microwave open had some disruption on the oven market when it came out. Also the “age of the airplane” did revolutionize travel but it didn’t mean it was the “end of the age of the a automobile” anymore than the the tablet is the “end of the PC”. It did however signal the end of transcontinental travel by boat (other than for lifestyle/luxury with cruises.)

What we can say for sure is that it is,and increasing so , is the “age of computing, and of computing devices”. This is true with PCs, it is true with mobile and tablets, and increasing its going to be true with everything. And there are a variety of computing contexts with different needs, whether consumer passive consumption of content, or more active consumer consumption, to consumer productive, to work and business production to all sorts of lifestyle and societal automation.

In time, with improvements in technology, many different types of computing devices, will be sufficient gateways to all kinds of computer needs, not just in ability (for now you can use your Ipad to be your gateway to PC work, but it will usually come at a cost in productivity) but also in experience and productivity.

so as for stats. PCs while slumping in sales by 17% or something, still sold almost 3 times more than tablets, but both of those were dwarfed by smartphones, the majority being Android. All in all Computer Devices are popular. Phones and Tablets have a refresh rate, and lifecycle much smaller than PC, and are a growth area within computing devices

I don’t have statistics, but I very strongly think that PC USE, is still very high regardless of sales, and especially in business and anywhere work is done.

I’d like statistics on this, but I’d say, with strong conviction the following

  • Worldwide hours of PC use for work, intense information consumption (education, research, more than casual web browsing) etc., has gone up year over year.
  • Hours for general consumer use probably has stayed even or even gone up, though it would have declined in percentage, and more people use mobile devices and tablets for communication, passive content consumption and casual gaming. This could potentially be disruptive to certain subsets of PC software , such as PC casual gaming, and gaming in general.
  • mobile and tablet use is business has increased, and will but mostly in a complementary fashion, as for most producing contexts its not nearly as productive. In my own use this is true. I may say spend 15% of my email time on my mobile, or tablet, mostly just reading a few things and deleting, and just doing short answers, usually outside of business hours, but the majority of time is processed at a much quicker and productive pace, on my desktop, where I can type faster , whether using Gmail or outlook, and have have quick access to the other information I need when communication, such as info from web pages, links, content from my projects, and work file etc, cross referencing and searching historical emails etc.

Disruption is Always happening when it comes to all technology, year after year, decade after decade, explicitly since the industrial revolution, likely before, to a much slower degree, but disruption is often misinterpreted , and the interpretations are driven by fear.

Tablets just don’t have what it takes for “serious computing” yet. However I’m sure it will happen, but it won’t be that Tablets will replace PCs, but that they will merge. For now to be productive, I need fast typing, I need multitasking with different things on the screen at the time, I actually need 3 monitors  etc. In time small computing devices will be able to provide all this and more, and give me a great experience and access to a variety of apps, whether classical desktop, touchy tablet, voice driven whatever, or future holographic brain controlled awesomeness or whatever. It will seem silly then that we were arguing about Tablets and PCs. Its all just a journey of computing devices innovation.

So is Microsoft screwed with this? Whether the windows 8 play is working or not, and was executed well or not, is yet to be determined, however I think many of the ideals and concepts are spot on, and history will show that the desktop and touch will integrate, for both are needed in your “general purpose computing device”, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple does that next too. However PC sales are down, and windows sales will be as well, and MS is reducing the price of windows. It seems that the operating system market is going through a disruptive trend as far as pricing and revenues, and that is troubling for Microsoft, but luckily MS isn’t just an operating system company anymore. In time many technologies,despite being a technological complex and necessary foundation become a “generic commodity” and the operating system is going that way. However for Microsoft’s sake this isn’t too bad, as MS isn’t just an operating system company, and particular not just a “PERSONAL (as in CONSUMER) computer company.” In fact I think 75% of Microsoft’s revenue comes business and the enterprise. And the Enterprise market is far more stable, predictable and less fickle that the consumer market. Companies have essential business processes that support their companies trillions of dollars of revenue. The consumer market however is different. People can change quicker, and can be more fickle and follow trends, which isn’t bad, its just how it is, but its risky for companies that put all their eggs in that basket. They have to constantly trying to keep the consumer markets fickle attention, and dollar. This fact is probably the biggest risk to Apple.

So there are disruptive trends, caused by these changes and innovation in technology, and they do provide risk to Microsoft and companies like it, but Microsoft has grown and adapted to many such disruptive trends historically, and a few waves of its success was in riding and adapting on some of those disruptive trends, while they had misinterpreted and misplayed a few, and lost in some areas, and other companies have risen up to great success with MS’s failure, but overall I think MS is well poised to deal with this disruption. It will be painful in some areas, and great in others.

But putting that all aside, I love my surface RT, it’s the best gateway to productive work from a tablet device. (I can RDP well, do tablet browsing,plus destop browsing, and I can connect up different keyboards and an external monitor). however it does have lots of warts too.

My dream device that I would buy if it came out in 2013 is this.

a new apple device that mixes a macbook air with an IPAD

basically a device with the following

  • full OSX, and Intel chip, running OSX apps well
  • OSX extended well for touch
  • an IPAD app (or mode) running all IPAD apps I want
  • some sort of story between communicating between desktop and IPAD apps (at least as good , and hopefully better than metro/win8 desktop)
  • full multitouch
  • retina display
  • LTE chipset for mobile data
  • nice apple aesthetics and feel
  • some sort of awesome keyboard experiencing whether attachable, detachable, transformable or whatnot.
  • USB
  • microSD slot
  • good story for hooking up to 2 external monitors (plus using the device as a third)
  • 8 gb+ ram
  • and of course it’s a powerful machine, so I can run vmware, and windows 8 on it, and bootcamp, so either as a VM or bootcamp, and of course great drivers so the windows 8 touch experience is good
  • some sort of app like bluestacks so you get android too.

If Apple comes out with such a thing, AWESOME. Even if they don’t that sort of thing , in a light and usable form factor will be ubiquitous one way or another in a few years, and innovation will be running around in 5 or 10 other interesting and exciting and newsworthy direction.s

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