While the PC's not exactly dead in an absolute sense, its days at the forefront of innovative applications and unprecedented customer experiences are gone.
Yes, there are still hundreds of millions of PCs around and many or even most will keep chugging away for years to come: perfectly capable and dependable blocks within corporate IT's extended foundation.
And if you're a CIO wondering why knuckleheads like me are playing into this hysteria and trying to cram these perfectly good machines into the storage bin of near-obsolescence, just thank Apple and Steve Jobs and the iPad. Because the iPads are coming, and they're coming in volumes that are difficult to comprehend.
My colleague Alex Wolfe analyzed this sweeping trend in a recent column called Wolfe's Den: Top Technologies To Watch In 2011: "Note that I don't mean 'desktops' as in 'desktop PCs,' as distinct from laptops. The mini-tower is already a metaphorical tombstone to a computing era now past.
"What I'm getting at," Alex continued, "is an atmospheric observation that desktops and laptops, as a mode of user engagement are the past, not the future. This is true notwithstanding the fact that you're probably reading this article—particularly if you're at work—on your laptop."
While the number of iPad corporate users is still quite small in relative terms, and while the percentage of those users who've junked their PCs to go solo on the iPad is still relatively puny, we need to remember that we're looking back not over years and years of incremental growth but rather over just a few quarters of stupendous acceleration in the business-world adoption of the iPad.
Take a look at this stunning 8-month timeline that starts around the time of the iPad's introduction and shows the hockey-stick trajectory in revised forecasts for how many of the devices Apple will sell in 2011:
April 2, 2010: Right around the time Apple introduces the iPad, research firm iSuppli predicts Apple will sell 7.1 million iPads in 2010; 14.4 million in 2011; and 20.1 million in 2012.
July 21, 2010: Just 100 days later, iSuppli revises upward its 2011 iPad sales forecasts by 150%--after just 100 days!—from 14.4 million to 36.5 million. (Psst: not to blow the punchline, but we haven't heard the last from iSuppli.)
Sept. 7, 2010: UBS analyst Maynard Um boosts his forecast for Pad sales in 2011 to 28 million, and says the Apple tablet is cutting significantly into PC sales.
Sept. 23, 2010: Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster raises his 2011 iPad forecast by almost 50%, from 14.5 million units to 21 million units.
Oct. 6, 2010: Moving the bar considerably higher, Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White says Apple has convinced suppliers that they need to gear up to produce 45 million iPads in 2011.
Oct. 19, 2010: Blowing up its two previous forecasts, iSuppli projects that Apple will sell 43.7 million iPads in 2011, and 63.3 million in 2012. So from its initial projections some six months earlier, iSuppli raised its estimates on iPad unit sales from 14.4 million to 43.7 million this year (an upward revision of 200%), and from 20.4 million to 63.3 million in 2012 (an upward revision of more than 200%).
Nov. 29, 2010: Just two months after releasing its initial 2011 forecast for PC shipments, Gartner revises that estimate downward—by about 12.2%--and attributes the change to rapidly shifting preferences for the iPad.
Nov. 30, 2010:Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Jeffrey Fidacaro forecasts that RIM will sell about 8 million Blackberry Playbooks in 2011, but calls other estimates of 10 million optimistic.
And please bear in mind: all of this upward flux is for a product that's only been on the market for a few quarters! Yet in that fleeting slice of time, more than 40,000 iPad-specific apps have been developed and are available through Apple's App Store. Also, many of the 300,000+ iPhone apps available there are also compatible with the iPad.
A very interesting column on the rise of mobile devices in Monday's Wall Street Journal by Mike Malone and Tom Hayes offered a compelling perspective on that unprecedented boom in applications: "In the case of the iPhone, Apple has even created a powerful new business model, consumer-created applications, that has revolutionized the software industry and produced one of the greatest outpourings of private/corporate innovation ever seen."
That right there might be the most-damaging wound to the PC's future as a vibrant platform, as opposed to being simply a workmanlike cog in the corporate infrastructure: Steve Jobs has obliterated the barrier to entry for applications for the iPad and iPhone. That doesn't mean that all of them will be good—but it sure means the odds are that many will be.
Their column also notes that the Chinese government says that almost 300 million Chinese citizens are now accessing the Internet via mobile phones, and that Comcast says it is preparing to deliver cable-television programming to the iPad later this year.
Is the PC dead? Perhaps not, but the role it has played for the past three decades certainly is. And CIOs need to be prepared to adjust their strategies aggressively and rapidly to meet this new reality.
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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