Much is being said about the “post-PC era.” Steve Jobs uses the expression as if the PC were already dead. Of course, he knows that it’s not literally dead. As with the disappearance of the Mac’s floppy drive in the late 90’s and the absence of a hardware keypad on the iPhone in 2007, Apple tends to be a bit ahead of the market.
What the expression is really referring to, and what you hear Mr. Jobs actually say in his talks, is that the PC is no longer the center of our digital universe. It’s been relegated to just one of a number of computing devices that people use everyday. That’s a fairly accurate way of putting the PC in its place. After all, the PC companies are still selling millions of boxes and laptops every quarter. So the PC is not dead, and we’re not really in a “post-PC” era at all.
But we are definitely in the middle of a new era, one where there exists many more options for people to do things they used to do exclusively on a PC. And that’s part of the reason why PC revenue growth is slowing. It was already slowing down before smart phones became so popular, and certainly before tablet computers came on the scene. Those new classes of computing devices are only accelerating the impact on the PC business.
But why? After all, the PC is a much more powerful computer by almost any measure. And while you can’t put a laptop in your pocket, they can be quite portable, especially when considering the wave of ultra-compact laptops coming out nowadays.
The real differentiating factor that everyone will tell you can be summed up in two words: Creating vs. consuming. PCs are great, and even essential, for creating things, such as articles, web pages, books, writing traditional software code, and serious photo and video editing, to name just a few. Smart phones and tablets are great for consuming the fruits of those creation efforts, such as reading articles, surfing the web, reading books, running apps, and viewing already-edited photos and videos.
Before smart phones and tablets, we did all of those things on the PC. The trend now is to do most of the consumption activities on a mobile computing device, and even some of the creation things as well. We still need the PC to do the heavy lifting for creation. But that’s becoming the exception. And that’s what’s making the PC an “exceptional” tool.
My wife is a living example. Before she got her iPod touch, and later an iPhone, she did everything on the computer. She almost never came to bed at night. Now she comes to bed with her iPhone. She moves from creation mode on the PC (she’s a photographer) to consumption mode on the smart phone. And because of the level of integration that Apple offers, she does this seamlessly, having access to any data she needs using one technology or another. And that’s before Apple’s iCloud even comes to market!
The PC remains an important tool. After all, someone has to create the stuff that others consume. And that role of serving creation activities is making the PC become a more pure “workstation”–a place where people do real work. And to that end, the PC will be with us a long time.
But there are many, many more consumers than there are creators. And consumers don’t want to work–they want to play. And for playing, I know they all feel the same way: They prefer to use their mobile device whenever they can. They’ll go to their PC only if they have to.
The PC is indeed becoming an “exceptional” tool. And that change in user behavior will continue having a profound affect on the PC business.