Is the PC losing relevance?

The PC has to give way to something else at some time - the question is to what and when.

I read a fascinating report last week by one Hiroko Tabuchi writing for the Associated Press under the title PCs Losing Their Relevance in Japan

Now, normally, I treat anything from AP as suspect because of their long term commitment to fauxtography but the message here resonants strongly enough with what I already believe that I'm tempted to make an exception.

Here's his summary:

The PC's role in Japanese homes is diminishing, as its once-awesome monopoly on processing power is encroached by gadgets such as smart phones that act like pocket-size computers, advanced Internet-connected game consoles, and digital video recorders with terabytes of memory.

Some further excerpts should help you formulate your own opinion on this:

"The household PC market is losing momentum to other electronics like flat-panel TVs and mobile phones," said Masahiro Katayama, research group head at market survey firm IDC.

Overall PC shipments in Japan have fallen for five consecutive quarters, the first ever drawn-out decline in PC sales in a key market, according to IDC. The trend shows no signs of letting up: In the second quarter of 2007, desktops fell 4.8 percent and laptops 3.1 percent.

NEC's and Sony's sales have been falling since 2006 in Japan. Hitachi Ltd. said Oct. 22 it will pull out of the household computer business entirely in an effort to refocus its sprawling operations.

...

More than 50 percent of Japanese send e-mail and browse the Internet from their mobile phones, according to a 2006 survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The same survey found that 30 percent of people with e-mail on their phones used PC-based e-mail less, including 4 percent who said they had stopped sending e-mails from PCs completely.

The fastest growing social networking site here, Mobagay Town, is designed exclusively for cell phones. Other networking sites like mixi, Facebook and MySpace can all be accessed and updated from handsets, as can the video-sharing site YouTube.

And while a lot of the decline is in household PCs, businesses are also waiting longer to replace their computers partly because recent advances in PC technology are only incremental, analysts say.

At a consumer electronics event in Tokyo in October, the mostly unpopular stalls showcasing new PCs contrasted sharply with the crowded displays of flat-panel TVs.

"There's no denying PCs are losing their spunk in Japanese consumers' eyes," said Hiroyuki Ishii, a sales official at Japan's top PC maker, NEC Corp. "There seems to be less and less things only a PC can do," Ishii said. "The PC's value will fade unless the PC can offer some breakthrough functions."

So is there light at the end of the PC wastebow? I think the transition to smart desktops like Sun Rays coupled with smart playphones like Apple's iPhone is inevitable - but I've said so for years and tend to select supporting viewpoints.

So you tell me: did this guy catch the wave early? or are his conclusions either suspect or not applicable outside Japan?

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