Are we, as Apple would have us believe, in the “post-PC era”? I’m not so sure.
The phrase has become something of a tech meme lately and Apple has understandably embraced it, claiming at the wholly underwhelming launch for the “New iPad” that it sold 172 million “post-PC” devices last year – a figure that combines sales of iPads, iPhones and even iPods.
It’s stretching things somewhat to label the iPod as a “post-PC” device, but we’ll let that one pass.
There is always a knee-jerk reaction to any successful new technology that foresees it replacing whatever came before, when the evidence of history shows us that simply is not the case.
New technology fragments markets, introduces new options for buyers, and breaks down barriers for new entrants. Overall, the market itself becomes bigger than it was before as more people buy more of the greater options available to them.
That’s exactly what’s happening now, in what we have come to call the consumerisation of IT.
Tablets, smartphones, netbooks, Chromebooks and all these new form factors have introduced alternatives to the PC, which in some cases compliment rather than replace what went before.
I don’t yet see many business users who have bought iPads throwing away their PCs or laptops as a result. Some are, of course, and more will. But what many are finding is that the iPad or whatever tablet they are using, allows them to use technology in a different way and at different times or situations.
iPads and tablets are not replacing PCs, but they are becoming the preferred device for certain functions previously performed by a PC or laptop. They are replacing the PC for doing things that iPads are better at than PCs, like surfing on the move, accessing e-mail and calendars on the move, and so on. There’s not a lot of wordprocessing or spreadsheet manipulation taking place on tablets or smartphones, nor that much ERP and CRM data entry.
The IT managers I’ve seen taking “post-PC” devices into meetings for their connectivity and ease of use typically end up back at their desk on a PC/laptop once they have received a message or alert that they are needed elsewhere.
Indeed, in a timely coincidence, the morning after the iPad launch the night before, Gartner forecast that PC sales will grow 4.4% this year, with 368 million units shipped, rising further to 400 million in 2013. That’s still plenty of cash for an era that is meant to be over.
What we are actually entering is the post PC-is-your-only-option era.
New form factors are replacing some of the time we used to spend on PCs, but not yet fully obviating the need for PCs. We’ll still be using PCs 10 years from now, just not as many of them, and not spending as much time using them.
A new device doesn’t necessarily replace an old device, but it does replace some of the time spent on the old device.
We have certainly entered is the “Apple marketing is getting more and more annoying era”, but that’s another era that has plenty of time yet to run.