The Myth of the “Post-PC World”

For more than a decade pundits and vendors have been proclaiming “the death of the PC.” And suggesting that there’s no reason anyone could possibly want or need a desktop or notebook computer in this day and age. In fact, there’s also a 2006 article claiming that the Symbian phone would “kill off” the desktop computer.

The argument is that “The Cloud” will store everything anyone would ever need, and provide the real computing power.

These arguments come mainly from two classes of folks:

  1. Journalists, writers, and intellectuals, and
  2. People who sell or market cloud services, tablets, and smartphones.

Let’s look at a few use cases and see how the not-a-real-computer model works in real life…

Case 1. Becky is an office manager for a small construction company in the area. She is in the office all day, every day, answering phones, acting as receptionist when needed, and generally making sure everyone in the company is doing what they’re supposed to be doing. She has a Windows desktop PC that she uses for Outlook, Quickbooks, and typical document tasks.

How would she react if I tried to take her 22″ screen and full-size keyboard to replace it with a 10″ tablet screen and a miniature Bluetooth keyboard? “Over my dead body.”

Case 2. Joe is a construction supervisor who splits time between a desk in the office and working at job sites in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He works with a lot of CAD files, PDF scans of blueprints, and spreadsheets. Again, the big screen and ease of data input into a desktop PC make his office work much less tedious, and he has a notebook computer to bring to job sites. We tested a 3G internet card for the laptop…but many of his work sites are in remote locations where the natives don’t believe in strange things like cell towers…the reality is that even in 2012, there are places thirty miles from Boston that do not have reliable high-speed wireless connectivity.

Case 3. System named “COATING22” is on a factory floor in Fitchburg. This system is used by four people across three shifts, running software to control a nickel-plating machine that runs 24/7. If the control system stops working the company loses money. And putting a $500 iPad in every employees’ hands is not a logical option for a shop floor, due to loss, damage, and proprietary information concerns

Case 4. Small tech company has a notebook PC used by an online marketer. The 12″ screen and full keyboard are better for constant e-mail, press release, and blog post (and other content) creation. These tasks could be done with a tablet + Bluetooth keyboard, but these devices don’t multitask as well and have far more limited local storage.

The facts. NetMarketShare monitors the type of system that accesses thousands of web sites every day.

chart of the day, operating system share, march 2012

So even Windows Vista, the most hated operating system in recent memory, has a larger market share than Mac OS and linux combined. Hint: the “Other” section is mostly Windows 2000, 98, and Windows 8 previews.

Now, it’s clear that mobile devices DO have a promising future, but the idea that “no one is buying computers any more” is clearly not true. Many of these “death of the PC” rants came during the more general economic slowdown, and companies like Lenovo are announcing strong sales and record profits. Each type of device has its use cases…which are dictated by business use, not what Vendor X or tech journalist Y wishes were reality.

Next up…what are the business use cases for tablets and other “post PC” devices?

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