The so-called 'death of the PC'

Summary:Is the PC dying? Not really. It's more to do with that users now have choice about which tools they use.

Death of the PC
Death is coming. (If you're a PC.)

Last week Microsoft announced some decent numbers for their last reporting period .

Cue me getting an equally decent number of messages on Twitter along the lines of: "Ha! You say the PC is dying, but look at Microsoft's numbers!"

Quite.

Next, a quick Google for the phrase "so-called death of the PC" yields a good few dozen blog posts from my compatriots at other publications. Each of them make the argument that with good Microsoft financial results, the PC can't be dying.

Ungh. That's not really what "death of the PC" means. Let me explain...

Options

The whole phrase "death of the PC" is just a convenient hook. The PC isn't dying -- it can't die, for reasons that I'll come on to.

Instead of all this, the better way to read what is happening to the industry isn't that the Microsoft is doing badly; rather it's to look at how well all of the other guys are doing. On one hand, there are fewer PCs being sold than there used to be, and on the other hand there are more post-PC (smartphones and tablet) devices being sold than there used to be.

This is all about people -- mainly consumers, but this affects business users too -- having more choice than they used to have.

Here's a case in point:

We now know that  Office 365 in the home-use market is doing rather well , having hit two million subscribers. If you need to have Office at home, and you're going to buy it, there is no better way of buying it than on subscription. That goes for small businesses too -- if you need Office, an Office 365 subscription is fantastic value and totally the best way to buy that product.

But consumers, and via the creeping unstoppability that is "consumerisation of IT", business users too now don't have to choose Office at all. They can do other things. In this case they could choose  freebie Google Docs , or the equally free Office Web Apps.

It's not about "death of the PC", it's about "the birth of choice".

In the pre-post-PC era, choice came somewhat less easily. Sure, you could choose to ditch Office for OpenOffice, but oftentimes IT managers felt that to make that choice might end up ending their careers in new and innovative ways. Or, to put it another way, in the pre-post-PC era, the choice was that there was no choice.

Efficiency

Another funny thing that comes up when people talk to me about the death of the PC is the idea that people will be sitting there at their desks tapping out emails on their phones rather than using a PC. Why would anyone do that if they have a perfectly good PC sitting there?

For business use, we have as an industry spent decades making the PC unbelievably good at doing business-y things in business environments. There's no reason to ditch any of that, and I'm sure that as an industry we'll continue to make the PC better.

The PC is all about driving commercial efficiency, and it's that bit that it's good at. Post-PC devices are all about driving relationships by bringing people more smoothly into contact with the people and the things that they live.

We'll always have an economy, and as such we'll always need improvements in commercial efficiency and always need information systems to do it. From that perspective, the PC isn't dying and never will. (And if it turns out that we don't have an economy, we have bigger problems than the numbers our favourite tech firms report.)

So from that perspective, we'd expect Microsoft to do well in their enterprise markets, and  they appear to be doing so . That should come as no surprise to anyone.

But this choice is not going to go away. Someone whose sole interaction with online services is chatting to friends on Snapchat, selling things on eBay, a spot of online banking, and maybe a splash of email, doesn't get the same "win" out of a PC, because a PC is designed to serve a commercial market first and not them and their needs.

Hence Microsoft's challenge to  reposition itself as a devices and services company . If people are going to be choosing from Column A or Column B, it makes sense to have products in both Column A and Column B.

Conclusion

In essence, the PC cannot die in this new post-PC, choice-led market because it was never alive. Buying stuff for your hobby on eBay, posting on Facebook, playing games, etc -- because those things did nothing for commercial efficiency, and did everything for your relationships, they were post-PC functions. That you could do them on the PC at all was accidental. What you were actually doing there was trying out the services on prototype devices. The real production devices for all that are smartphones and tablets.

So the PC isn't dying. It's not going anywhere. What we need is a different phrase to sum this phase of the market up. How about "PC and post-PC? Vive la différence."

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topics: PCs, Smartphones, Tablets

About

Matt Baxter-Reynolds is a mobile software development consultant and technology sociologist based in the UK. His latest book -- "Death of the PC" -- is available on Amazon now.

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