PCs, BYOD and the mobile revolution

In the last few years there has been a lot of commentary by various groups about the state of the PC industry, the rise of mobile computing devices and with it the “Post PC” era.

I speak to clients regularly about what this all means and what we are seeing on the ground in terms of some of the seismic shifts in technology use among users.

“The demise of the PC”  What is really happening.

First, I think its high time we classify what most people think of when they think “PC” into two separate classes of machine.

Those being used for truly personal use, I will call the PCs.Those being used in business, outside of the home, we will call BCs – business computers.

With those definitions in place, I can honestly say that I believe the “PC” will be all but dead and buried within five years. There will always be a small percentage of them out there, sweating as assets do, but the large majority of personal computers in the home will be replaced by the rise of the Mobile device.

For the devices we call Business Computers – I expect almost nothing to change. There will be slight growth in OSX systems over Windows systems over time, but these devices are NOT going away within ten years.

What we will see is a blurring of the line between business computers and the mobile devices we see today. This may well be detrimental to Windows, or not…

Computers being complimented by mobile devices.

There is a huge shift happening in the world of compute. We are seeing a third major shift in the evolution of compute resources.

The first paradigm was the centralized compute paradigm with big-iron like mainframes.

The second, was the “Personal Computer” and client-server revolution.

What we are seeing now is the movement even further away from the monolithic, to Mobile Compute.

What is happening in the short term is that the business computers are being complimented by at least one mobile device. This usually starts as a smartphone, and often also includes an additional tablet form factor mobile device.

The average number of these devices per person varies based on their position, but the global average I am seeing is around 2.4 total devices (BCs/PCs included) per person. This means one Business Computer, one SmartPhone and on average 40% of users with an additional device ala tablet.

The problems for Microsoft

The issue here is that for any particular activity that I need to do (Lets say eMail for purposes of being bland and ubiquitous), I need to be able to do that activity on all my devices to be truly productive.

Steve B’s deep man-love for Windows precludes the Office team from porting much other than email to those other mobile devices, which essentially will start devaluing the Office platform in the market. Note that when I say these things need to be available across platform, I mean they need to be available at high quality – not base level “check-the-checkbox” level.

The same is true of all the other activities (workloads for the MS dudes).

Secondarily, there is an issue of the erosion of the PC from the homes of millions. The fact is that my mother in law does not need anything more than a tablet, with basic apps and none of the headaches of the Windows platform.

This is the primary target of the Windows 8 release and associated Surface tablet. Its NOT the business, where a new UI will initially suck down productivity and invite the kind of whining that the “Ribbon bar” did in Office 2007.

So, MS needs to port Apps to alternate platforms and remain relevant, and for consumers stop the bleeding  to tablets by un-bloating Windows and providing a clean OS for the true consumer.

So far Windows8 RT still seems to be shoehorned in, and will come with all the baggage associated with updates etc.

From an everything-else perspective a huge disadvantage is that Microsoft has just now started…

The problem for Apple and Google

Apple and Google with iOS and Android respectively are in a very good position. They need to keep iterating on their systems to make them much better at content creation. Essentially the race is on for them to include most features users need to truly let that Business or Personal computer go.

On the Personal side, as I have said, I believe they are there already – they fill all the app holes, have a much better experience overall (maintenance, portability, features etc)

On the Business side, they need to improve, and are spending a lot of time and effort on “Enterprises” to start getting there. Where app developers port their apps to these platforms, they keep eroding the old style business computer more and more.

Currently Apple and Google are “winning” as the compute space moves from old style compute to mobile compute.

The functionality ecosystem advantage for Apple

Apple clearly redefined mobility with iOS in 2007. They’ve had a head start ever since.

On a side note, everyone wants them to revolutionize iOS again, but if they got the experience right the first time, there is no need to do any radical change anymore. They just invented the Airplane while everyone was using a car. Refine the airplane, don’t go looking for another vehicle.

The issue facing others in the race is that of critical mass in terms of devices and user’s content.

Apple has iMessage, FaceTime, iTunes, AirPlay and a host of other tech that creates a very good Apple device ecosystem for iPhone, iPad, AppleTV, Macs and iPods.

In addition, a huge number of users now have content downloaded and managed by these devices. A huge number of users who could care less what the technology is, they just know their Music us in Apple’s hands.

For others to sway the market, they need to not only do better per device, they need to do better in the ecosystem and somehow also convince users in some cases to re-spend on the apps, content etc they may have already bought.

Apple has done a great job being first, and being sticky.

In addition, while Android is clearly growing like its on fire, Google makes no money on Android. (Bizarrely Microsoft does)

Apple is the only company in this race so far making money.. and they’re making a pile of it… to the tune of more money on iPhone than Microsoft in it’s entirety makes. Depending on your political views, this may be an interesting data point. How will it affect the race overall?

The race is on…

We have begun to sprint from the Personal Computing era to the Mobile Computing era.

Will iOS, Android or Windows get there and get sticky first?

For everyone else not caught in this meat grinder, which platforms will you support “First and best”?

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