Here’s what people think about the end of the PC

by Chris on November 26, 2013

About 6 weeks ago I published one of my weekly columns in the Globe and Mail as part of the Strategy Lab project. The topic was how Apple may turn iOS into a PC replacement. You can read my column here.

I firmly believe that PC sales are now in a long term decline. Many of us still need and want PCs. I’m typing this on a Macbook Pro connected to a 24″ monitor by HDMI. While I type this I have a video rendering in the background, thanks to Final Cut Pro. I won’t be throwing away my PCs anytime soon.

But smartphones and tablets are getting more powerful every year. Apple now has 64-bit processors in the iPhone 5s, and I think it’s only a matter of time before the operating system can render the visual output onto a large screen via Airplay, and support multiple user interface styles. Think touch screen when on the go, more of a mouse/keyboard UI for when connected to a giant monitor. The Mail app could look just like the Mac Mail app when plugged into my giant monitor, and the Pages, Numbers, or Keynote app can do likewise. At least that’s how I see it.

When this happens, less people will buy PCs. They won’t die, but they’ll keep shrinking. It seems obvious to me, but when I read comments from those who read my column, there is a clear polarization in views. Some people think I’m pointing out the obvious. Others think I’m a total idiot. I agree with the former, duh … but what do the latter people say?

The people who disagree with me are pretty much stuck in the present, and seem unable to think about the future. As evidence I present the following:

Suffice it to say, the functionality of iOS is so far and away limited to an actual personal computer, be it laptop or desktop, that this article seems utterly ridiculous. You can’t even send an email document attachment in iOS.

and then this…

Yeah, whatever. And the office apps that will be run on your smart phone are what? Are you only using your desktop for email and a browser?

oh, and let’s not forget this …

The folks who want to tweet inanities and hype their trivial self-centred lives on Facebook find a smartphone perfectly fits their needs. But some of us have actual work to do.

That’s just a small sample. There are another bunch of people who didn’t seem to understand the concept of having a smartphone or tablet render its output to a larger screen, so they attacked me for suggesting people do “actual work” from a tiny screen. So this presents an whole new aspect to the problem. There are either people who agree with my view, or there are people who disagree because they don’t think about this in the context of evolving technology. Many people seem to only think about their current use-case and the current technology. If I did that I’m say the same thing. PCs will be the next big growth market … yay!

I wonder if anyone who reads this will actually agree with my view that smartphone/tablet technology is evolving yet still come up with a good argument for the growth of the PC market. If so, I’d love to hear it. Genuinely.

I’ll close with this comment: Let’s assume I’m right about what I consider to be an obvious call on the direction of technology (and not a call I created. I simply paid attention to other smart folks). Does this mean Apple is a great stock? Not necessarily. Google and Microsoft are not dumb. They’re already somewhat down this same path. I just think Apple may be ahead of the curve. If not Apple then I’d bet on Google to execute this vision between Chrome OS and Android (or some eventual bastardized combination of the two). I would not place my bet on Microsoft. Too much history of failure in mobile. And mobile is what’s driving ALL of this.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Brandon November 26, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Not sure how people are arguing with you on this one. Pretty obvious transition I would say. Tablet success proves this.
And can you really not attach a document too an email on iOS..?

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Eric Spencer November 27, 2013 at 1:32 pm

In fact you can attach a document in iOS although it is not the traditional way of thinking such as working in a full blown mail client. Attaching a document does require a bit or forward planning in iOS. The document that you want to attach would have to be open and stored in a common location such as iCloud or Sky drive or even Microsoft One note for this to occur. There are also many apps that will enable this type of functionality and most commonly I use iFiles to which I can store documents locally on my devices or configure a server at home to retrieve document and or other information.

It is clear the way of the future is to have a smaller form factor which is able to leverage the day to day tasks of business that do not require large amounts of processing power. As it is now you are able to do screen mirroring in iOS which will render the entire tablet and all the applications available if you have a compatible set top box such as Apple TV. If you have a smart TV or internet capable it will depend on the level of integration the manufacturer has placed into building an app that will interface iOS and the TV……all in all in todays world there is nothing that is impossible.

Kudos to Chris for a well written and factual article

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Javier Montemayor November 27, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Where do you think BlackBerry is positioned in this scheme?

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Randy December 8, 2013 at 10:52 am

No argument with the notion that PCs are in decline. We’ve seen this since the 1st smart phones started to arrive in the market.

There are two typical ways to use a PC – to consume or create content. Many of us do both.

Smart phones and tablets can deliver most kinds of content and so users who predominantly consume may choose to not replace their PC. Much the same way many wireless customers are letting go of their land lines.

Large content hoarders (like me), or creators of many types of content, require more powerful computing and cheap storage not available yet on phones, tablets or in the cloud. And with price of PCs continuing to decline the value proposition for replacing the PC for these types of users seems far off.

This is a long winded way of saying I agree with you that PCs are in a slow decline and will not likely fade away to nothing.

As an investor I would be looking at companies that can profitably deliver cheap storage and let users easily gain access to it from any device.

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Bill December 16, 2013 at 2:35 pm

I wonder if we’re looking at this the wrong way. Maybe it’s actually the Smartphone going away and the PC (i.e. Personal Computer) shrinking down to a Smartphone form factor. Think about it. If you have a personal computing device that behaves like a Smartphone when in your hand and like a “PC” when docked with a big screen, then this really is a “personal computer”.

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Chris December 19, 2013 at 6:15 am

Bill … sure, you can reframe it that way if you prefer. Doesn’t really change anything at all.

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CanadaGuy December 19, 2013 at 12:07 am

Simply said, tablets will evolve in features to a point where it becomes like a laptop that is connected to a screen and key board and used like a cpu.

Than the phone will evolve to the same power and the same scenario will unfold that will evolve / is happening with tablets.

Does this really mean the PC has died, or does it mean the PC has become smaller. Remember the days of the IBM mainframes that filled up a room? It was replaced by a desktop than by a laptop all with the same compute power.

Let’s talk about Apple now, is the argument really about the death of the PC or is it about the cost-value trade off of a Win vs Android vs iOS offering and which will get the greatest customer adoption or in Apples case sufficient adoption to drive the share price higher? Clearly the latter is what you are arguing.

It is a given that a mainframe/PC/Laptop/Tablet/Phablet/Phone…GoogleGlass/Watch will get more powerful, what is not a given is who will win over the consumer.

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Chris December 19, 2013 at 6:18 am

Well said. Similar to Bill, it doesn’t really matter how label things (PC / smartphone / tablet). Agree on Apple. So far in this transition they’ve gained incredible share. Will that persist for another 10-20 years? We don’t know. But my money is on Apple / Google before Microsoft.

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Robert Franz April 24, 2014 at 8:41 pm

I love my iphone.

But no – I don’t do serious work on it if unless I am stuck, and even then it’s seriously inefficient.

I’m not crazy about any of the players in the market right now.

Apple is a consumer company, and they’ve given up on the server market entirely. In giving up that market, they also lost sight of a lot of the features that business require.

MS just assumed that their clunky winmo5 interface was good enough for everyone.

Where Apple ate everyone’s lunch is in going vertical – and I think few people that have not both worked in the cellular industry, and used mobile phones for real work can truly appreciate how beneficial that was.

Instead of a carrier and phone manufacturer pointing fingers at each other over who is going to pay for the next upgrade/bug fix, Apple has to own the issues.

With the exception of the few MS stores and Win8 phones, Iphones are the only phone where you can actually take it to the vendor that designed it.

No, the guy at the genius bar is the tyrolean hat didn’t design your phone, but he is part of the chain that did – and you feel like if you are tenacious enough, you can get real resolution.

Unlike my TyTyn II which had a known bug that rendered it’s multimedia functions useless.

Now macbooks, not a fan.

Too limiting on the current models – sorry guys – it’s not quite time yet to dump the ethernet port.

Won’t use an ipod – since it brings itunes baggage along with it, and I loathe itunes.

Tablets?

Mixed bag.

Another area where Apple thinks it knows best by not providing any standard io interface.

USB/FW – I don’t really care – but thunderbolt?

Naah – I’d rather have the broader compatibility of usb3.

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