[FoRK] The post-PC era is happening, but not yet at the expense of PCs

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Wed May 18 03:46:14 PDT 2011


The post-PC era is happening, but not yet at the expense of PCs

By Chris Foresman | Published about 10 hours ago

Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently roused some criticism for declaring the iPad to
be the harbinger of a "post-PC" era. Market research firms seem to disagree
with Jobs' proclamation; Gartner thinks he may be right, suggesting tablets
are eating into PC sales, while NPD thinks slow PC sales have nothing to do
with iPads. Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps believes the
transition started happening long ago, but the combination of advances in
mobile technology, the increasing ubiquity of WiFi and mobile broadband, and
consumers' increasing reliance on conducting official and personal business
online means computing happens more and more with tablets and smartphones and
less with a bulky desktop chained to a desk.

While popular wisdom seems to suggest that PCs will suddenly disappear as
consumers flock to touchscreen tablets, Epps sees users using more kinds of
computing devices which suit the given place and time. "Consumers own an
increasing number of devices, including PCs, and they get very good at making
tradeoffs in particular contexts," Epps told Ars. "79.3 million US consumers
own three or more types of connected devices; eight million own eight or more
types of connected devices," she said.

Epps, who focuses primarily on consumer product strategy, recently authored a
report titled "What the Post-PC Era Really Means," in which she lays down an
illumnating commentary on the current and future computing landscape. Jobs'
reference to "post-PC" isn't new—Intel has been trying to usher in the era
since at least 2005, and Ars has written about efforts from Microsoft,
NVIDIA, and others to transition to a post-PC world since. Nor is post-PC a
useless buzzword. "The post-PC era is real," Epps wrote in the report, "and
its consequences will revolutionize computing product strategy."

The problem is that defining what post-PC really means is a lot more complex
than suggesting tablets are in and PCs are out. There's a lot of life left in
the PC business, Epps told Ars, even as tablets and smartphones increasingly
grab consumer mindshare and dollars.

"The laptop form factor persists, for instance, but they start to act more
like smartphones—flash memory, more sensors, and 'apps,'" Epps said, noting
the popularity of the MacBook Air and Sony VAIO Z ultraportables. "Towers are
still relevant for small businesses, professional users, gamers, and
value-focused consumers. We're also seeing growth in the all-in-one category,
because consumers like big screens."

What defines the post-PC era are shifts in four fundamental qualities that
Epps identified as particular to traditional PC computing. Namely,
traditional PC use was stationary, formal, at arms length, and relied on
abstracted interaction. A user sat down in a particular spot, usually a desk,
for a pre-defined period of time, and used a computer by entering text via a
keyboard or manipulation abstracted symbols via a mouse.

Post-PC computing, in contrast, is ubiquitous, casual, intimate, and
physical. Devices are always on and always at the ready, used increasingly
for various combinations of work and personal use, used as much in the living
room as the bedroom, and rely on close physical interactions (think fingers
on a touchscreen, but that could change in the future to facial recognition
via a Kinect-like input).

This transition has been happening over the last decade, as users become
reliant on online services—imagine not being able to check Google Maps to
find your way to a distant location, consult Yelp for the nearest source of
burritos, or transfer funds from savings to checking right from a web
browser. WiFi and mobile broadband untethered such activities from the desk,
and smartphones freed them further by putting them in your pocket. And the
increasingly blurred line between work life and home life has created new
generations of users that expect to shop for a CD on Amazon or analyze the
latest quarterly sales figures pretty much any time of the day.

While these factors make it clear that we are indeed living in a post-PC
world, PCs won't disappear overnight—no matter how many millions of iPads
Apple sells in any given quarter. Cloud services will need to expand and
offer better reliability. Mobile broadband networks still have areas of poor
or no coverage. And some users will simply find a laptop or desktop suits
their needs better than mobile devices, while others will use multiple
devices—a laptop in the den, a tablet in the bedroom, and a smartphone in the

"In the post-PC era, the 'PC' is alive and well, but it morphs to support
computing experiences that are increasingly ubiquitous, casual, intimate, and
physical," Epps wrote. In other words, PCs will happily co-exist with mobile
devices like tablets for the time being. While tablet buyers may not be
buying new PCs in the next 6-12 months, users will hold on to their current
PCs which work "well enough."

You can expect vendors to expend increasingly more time and effort into
building "curated computing" devices that target specific needs with
increasingly mobile and specialized form factors. And one day, our kids will
mock a "PC" collecting dust in a corner of the basement. While we are already
living in a post-PC world full of iPhones and Droids and Xooms, that day
isn't quite here yet.

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