With most of the innovation in personal computing taking place in mobile devices, I often get asked if I think the PC is dead. It is an odd question since last year we sold close to 300 million PCs and laptops and will sell about 330 million in 2011. While many think Microsoft is on the ropes, it still sells Windows PCs and Windows based servers in record numbers. It’s true that it is struggling in other areas, but the PC is still a big money machine for them.
However, PCs have clearly lost much of their luster in light of the smartphones and tablets that seem to dominate the airwaves and blogs today. PCs have been relegated to the role of everyday computing. They have gone mainstream and are perceived as not having a lot of innovation going into the PC itself. The one exception has been the new MacBook Air. This slim laptop has become a top seller, and every laptop vendor is following suit.
When you look at the PC and its role, I believe you have to look at it in the light of a powerful ecosystem of products where the choice of screens users have in their digital lives, as well as where they access these screens, will drive the demand or need for individual products. PCs are just one screen we will use to access our “digital stuff.” But it is what we do with it and other digital devices that will determine whether the PC is dead or if it will become another node in our lives.
Of course, the major use for any digital screen is access to the Internet. Until two or three years ago, the only way we accessed the Internet was through a desktop or laptop. But today, we have other options for making this connection. According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life project, 59% of Americans accessed the Internet on their phones in 2010, up from 25% the year before. I am sure that if they do this study again this year, it will show that a growing number people will be using iPads and tablets for this purpose as well. The Internet is now the gateway to information, entertainment, and communication and is no longer limited to being accessed just on a PC anymore.
When it comes down to the role of things like PCs or mobile devices, I believe there are distinct defining lines that ultimately determines which digital screens we use and how we use them. That line is drawn between content creation and content consumption. The PC and laptop will always be great at content creation. If I were to do a large spreadsheet, create a long report, edit a movie, play a 3D game, or any other task that demands what I call working in a “lean forward” position, then I would gravitate to the PC. I have tried writing long documents on an iPad or even editing a movie on the iPhone, and it is difficult to do these tasks well. But the PC excels at these tasks and will always be my go to machine for any heavy lifting I need to do.