CES and the Death of the PC

The recent Consumer Electronics Show heralded the end of an era, as a profusion of handhelds – Smartphones to Slates – pushed bulky PCs from dominance.
Posted January 12, 2010
By

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle


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CES was back this year with a vengeance. Typically IT doesn’t care much about CES, but this year probably should be different: What CES launched will likely be coming in your front door in 12-18 months.

Much like it was in the ‘80s when, if you were watching, you could see the beginning of the end for the age of mainframes, CES this year represents the beginning of the end for most printers and PCs.

That earlier cycle took about a decade to really get going; I’m expecting this one to happen much more quickly – in something like 3 to 5 years this time. Google appears to be the lead platform beneficiary of this change. But they also appear to in the midst of a painful learning curve. So this outcome is far from certain.

The Beginning of the End of the PC Age

A lot of folks don’t remember when terminals effectively died. I can, as I was one of the folks trying to get rid of the damn things, both as a user and later inside of IBM.

The cause was that line and staff users (outside of IT) were sick of them. There were reliability issues, security issues (mostly having to do with remembering a massive number of passwords), user interface issues. The sense was that IT, called MIS (Management Information Systems) back then, was generally always late with solutions – and solutions generally didn’t work the way we wanted.

To give you an example, something we take for granted today, WYSIWYG editing wasn’t possible. You actually had to program, with a programming language called “Script,” your documents. And things like spell checkers didn’t really exist.

As a result the users effectively revolted and brought in PCs, word processors, spread sheet programs, and ran them initially without IT support. Eventually IT embraced the PC. It was IT that helped assure that Microsoft was initially successful but it was the users who drove the change – as they did with laptops, cell phones, pagers, and smartphones.

Buyers Are Ready for a Move

Perhaps “increasingly frustrated” would be a better term. And it isn’t just the Microsoft-based PC owners either.

Increasingly they – we – are using our other connected devices for communications. And it is these devices that are with us and that we are feeding with entertainment and applications – not PCs.

The Smartphones appear to be more reliable (at least for now) better-connected, and vastly easier to carry. But more important, because they increasingly rely on web services (including storage), we are less likely to be without our information when we need it.

IT-supplied PCs are now generally dropping into being over 4 years old. And personally purchased PCs are generally not supported by IT. Apple users are likely to be the most frustrated with this latter situation, and Microsoft PC users with the former.

But employees are also generally free to still buy the phone they want. Someone generally knows how to hook it into the business network even if IT won’t do it for you.

While users may express their frustration at the hardware or software (or companies that supply it), they appear to be frustrated with the model. They’re increasingly voting with their personal dollars for something different.

And based on what was showcased at CES, that new thing is a lot more like a Smartphone then it is a PC.

What’s Coming

Generally the new class of device is likely going to be a blend of the Slate, Smartbook, Smartphone, and eBook products products that were showcased at CES.

Better for reading, more power efficient, always connected, and typically sold like a Smartphone is today, their performance will likely be more gated by their network connection – this is the Cloud decade, after all – than any core technology.

Using the devices rather than paper for printing, rather than a laptop for remote access, and as an aggregation of navigation and entertainment devices, these handhelds are becoming the next Swiss Army knife product. Just as the PC once did.

The Risk for Status Quo and Emerging Vendors

When we moved from mainframe and mid-range computers to PCs, IBM dropped from the top spot, DEC failed, HP struggled and then eventually recovered to be better than it was. Software companies like Candle, which supported the old environment, ceased to exist.


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Tags: PC, IT, mainframe, handheld, CES 2010


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