Looking for evidence of a Post-PC world

A number of vendors are touting that a post-PC era has begun, I believe it, but believing is not seeing. Lets begin with what a Post-PC world should look like. Will there be PCs in the future? I would say yes. They still have a purpose, and some general value, but they will be a minority form factor as far as local computing is concerned. What will the majority form factor look like? Mobile computing platforms: smartphones, tablets, and devices that are hybrids of those two. A key characteristic is the ability to be data connected at a decent bit-rate while on the cellular network. Many things should look and act differently given these changes, lets speculate on a few.

Lets start with form factor, the PC usually is connected to a healthy size monitor, this makes digesting large scale data sheets (web pages as an example) easy, it produces a conducive environment for running multiple applications (windows), it provides a large rendering space for user interface (more real estate to easily activate or modify entries while seeing the entire UI) and a number of people can easily view the monitor at once. A large tablet can handle all of this today except the sharing aspect. A smart phone, for the most part, is challenged. What adaptations are necessary? Optional micro-projectors would increase real estate and address all these characteristics. We can see evidence of thinking here at [here & here] Another possibility is a wireless interface between the mobile computing device and a general purpose display. Evidence of thinking in this domain can be found at [here]
I’d characterize this as early evidence that the video real estate characteristic is being solved.

Another physical characteristic is the input method (keyboard, mouse, trackpad, etc.). This area is already well addressed in the commercial market. In fact, it may be driving the post-PC evolution as users embrace touchscreen tablets. Additionally, as natural gestures and speech become more important as input and control methods, something the smartphone and tablet provides easily, as is already being witnessed in the consumer marketplace.

Lets look at application modeling. Apple iOS and Android provide excellent local application capabilities that can operate while network connected or not. Some productivity toolsets require video real estate to create content effectively or view complex content (like spreadsheets). As discussed before, technology innovators seem to already have a handle on that problem. Some applications require connectivity (they may be focused on messaging, collaboration, or real time feeds) or may be better used if connected (augmented data and search are a couple of examples). Both mobile computing platforms and PCs provide the connectivity. Mobile computing platforms can do so from many locations and while in motion. Connectivity requiring significant bandwidth could be challenged on cellular networks (video calls for example). Even with LTE deployments on North American cellular networks, the likelihood of a significant bandwidth crunch is high if video calling is supported natively on the network. For this reason, expect most high bandwidth real time applications to be limited to WiFi networks for a few years.

This brings up another consideration for the connectivity model: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) eliminates the need for a fully functional PC, it can be replaced by a special purpose low cost viewing brick, or it can be replaced by a browser running on any platform. While it does not necessarily require significant bandwidth to support, there are times where it might, and certainly some use cases where it certainly will. Mobile computing platforms already support VDI viewing, but connectivity can dictate how functional it is. VDI is an example of an application type that requires connectivity, cloud based service applications is another example (think Google tools). As connectivity reach increases (think WiFi on airplanes) the need for intense local processing on PCs decrease. The evidence based on application connection model certainly indicates that mobile computing has evolved enough to begin replacing desktops.

Other evidence will be in the types of applications that become favored over long standing PC applications. Email, Calendaring, Web browsing all come to mind. Email is evolving to include common inbox, virtually no one wants multiple email clients on their platform. Both iOS and Android support this well. Many users are shifting to prefer Instant Messaging or SMS because they offer prospects of answers in near real time. Users will want to have a common messaging client for the same reasons they do not want multiple email clients. Evidence of this can be seen with iMessage, Gtalk, and Yahoo Messenger. There is no dominant calendaring application outside of Microsoft, a Post-PC world should see some movement here. Calendaring clients can be Microsoft independent. Web browsing innovations are already outstripping the need for a PC and have been for a number of years. HTML 5 adoption will foster this and is another strong indication of a Post-PC world.

Lastly, there should be evidence in trending. Fewer PCs and laptops sold; more smart phones; more tablets. More application sales for mobile computing, more SMS, MMS, and their derivatives. What do the trends show? Canalys reports that in 2011 smartphones outsold PCs. [here] Further its growth rate is a scorching 63%, tablets grew at an incredible 274%, while desktop PCs shrank 3.6%. ComScore’s review of 2010 indicates that mobile subscribers preferred text message use to email use 2:1 in the US and almost 4:1 in Europe. [here] Further the growth rate in SMS traffic is presently between 20 and 30% for the age 18-54 demographic. [here]

It seems like there is evidence that the era of Post-PC is approaching, will the evidence become even more pronounced? It will be an interesting year or two as we observe.

Until next time …

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About Vic Levinson
Telecommunications and IT professional with over 20 years experience in Business Telecommunications. Specializing in voice over IP (VoIP) for business: hosted VoIP, business VoIP phone systems, SIP providers, carriers, T1's - the works. Founded Prime Telecommunications in 1993 and providing business communications solutions. Cloud Applications- everything from hosted network security, hosted Disaster Recovery, hosted printer management, data centers and colocation solutions for businesses.

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