Few subjects get people riled up like that of the "post-PC era" that Steve Jobs called the era ushered in by the iPad. Too many folks are in no hurry to give up real computers for the slate or gadgets of other forms, and they get downright testy if you tell them they must. I agree that PCs, or computers if you will, are not going away any time soon. I do find a better term for what we are experiencing is the mobile era, and we are already firmly in it.
It is not so much the form of the device that makes up the post-PC era. It is the way we use them, and where they get used that is knocking the old tethered PC from the shopping lists of millions. The draw is picking up a gadget and doing stuff, and that is a common practice that is already beginning to replace the standard computer away from the workplace.
See also: The PC era is just beginning
The mobile era began years ago in the workplace. Many folks had no computer at home, they only used one as part of their job. That experience wasn't a really good one, as folks equated the computer with work. The phrase "my computer is down" was far too common, and that involved bringing in the IT people whose agenda seemed to be far different than that of most workers. Computers were largely things that occasionally stopped working, and then you were stuck until some expert found time to get them working again.
It was also in the workplace where email became the standard method of communication, and when companies started handing out phones for doing email the mobile era was born. So many workers ended up with those clunky blue BlackBerrys in hand. This exposed millions to the benefits of mobile email, although largely locked down by the job like those computers.
Smartphones started to appear that allowed folks to do personal email, and the mobile era began to grow. There were a lot of folks carrying Palm Treos and the like, and no matter what reasoning went into the purchase decision it was the ability to do email anywhere like those Crackberries that drove sales. People were getting exposed to the ability to stay in touch via email, and they liked it. The personalization of email ushered in the true mobile era.
The iPhone came along and exposed millions to this personalization of email, and spurred a big expansion of the mobile web. It elevated the phone to a multi-purpose mobile device, and folks discovered they liked that.
The growth of Facebook played a big role in the growth of the mobile era, as millions of Facebook users discovered the easiest way to interact with the popular service was not on a computer, but on the phone. It quickly knocked email usage to the curb, especially for young users growing up in the Facebook era. Along with standard phone text messaging, communicating with friends over Facebook became a standard form of communication, and largely from phones.
This mobile communication grew so prevalent that many non-techies mostly stopped using a computer at home. They used the phone to keep in touch with the social network, and that worked just fine. The mindset of breaking away from a tethered PC, even a laptop, was changing for millions.
The appearance of the iPad was the perfect storm of ubiquitous connectivity to the web, via Wi-Fi or 3G, and this mobile communication. The larger screen of the tablet handled this communication just fine, and did other things more computer-like, too. Millions buying the tablet embraced this utility through lots of apps that appeared overnight.
It wasn't just the apps, as iPad owners discovered the web browsing experience was just as good as on the computer for pretty much everything they did on the web. While computer usage had fallen in many households, getting on the web to do something was often the only thing still done regularly. The tablet changed that for many, who could now do everything they wanted on the mobile tablet.
The mobile era truly began with the iPad, and it isn't slowing down. It is growing at a staggering rate, as folks getting exposed to the mobile experience are realizing that it is all they need. It's not happening for all users, especially techies who are familiar with doing things on a computer that can't easily be done on the tablet. But there are far more of those people who still view the computer as a complicated thing, and these are more than happy to leave them behind.
As capable mobile devices get cheaper, this shift from computer to mobile will escalate rapidly. The cheap price point of the Kindle Fire ($199) is low enough that even those reluctant to try them will do so in increasing numbers. The key to adopting mobile devices as a home computing source is hands-on exposure, and that is about to take off.
This shift to mobile devices has one surprising aspect. While many of these consumers have a PC or a laptop at home, the comparison of using the mobile device to the real computer is reinforcing the mindset that once again PCs are for work. The tablet and phone do all they need, so they begin to view the computer as a work thing as folks did years ago. Mobile wins again in many homes.
I don't believe computers are going away anytime soon, but I do believe the mobile era is here to stay. More consumers are entering the mobile world every day, and discovering they can leave the evil computer behind. This speeds adoption of mobile technology in general, as users can forget the computer (or PC) for long periods. That makes for happy users, and they see the gadgetry as the reason behind it. That's why once most users go mobile, they won't go back to the PC.
The tablet space is growing, although how fast is open to interpretation. The iPad is no longer standing alone, but sales indicate it is the product in the driver's seat in the tablet space. There is no question that being first to market gave it a primary role in exposing millions to the mobile era, and many of those consumers will not go back to the way things were.
Image credit: Flickr Johan Larsson
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