Long live the PC

There has been a lot of talk recently of it now being the ‘Post PC’ era, but is it true, is the PC dead? And how does the current move away from PC’s to Tablet have anything in common with the Galapagos Islands?  That last question may be a little bit strange, but it does have something in common as you will see.
The end of the PC is like one of those conspiracy theories about the end of the world, always upon us or just around the corner but never actually happens. Back in the early 2000’s it was imaged that the house PC would be this small black humming box that sits under the stairs and connects to everything. The buzz word was at the time was ‘Convergence’, which was basically your PC, DVD, TV, Game Consoles, Phone & Internet would all be replaced with some sort of super device. But that hasn’t happened as each maker wanted it to ’Converge’ on their device
which has led to PC’s with TV tuners and TV’s with internet access. A couple of things stopped ‘Convergence’, lack of connection standards and agreement between companies. Content was restricted as media creators and distributors refused to release items in different formats to keep costs down, also wanting to supply their content through their own portals. This is changing now with Hulu, Netflix and iTunes providing easy accessible portals across a wide range of devices.
If we look at the basic design of the PC as an example of ‘Monitor, Keyboard, Mouse’ the form factor has tried to change over the past 20 years but fundamentally stayed the same. The movement from the Desktop to the Laptop, kept the same format. The movement to from Laptops to Netbooks was the same, nothing essentially changed with the base configuration. Sure the mouse got changed to a touch-pad pointing device but nothing really moved forward, it just got smaller over the years.
How does this relate to the Galapagos Islands? Well like the PC form factor, the animals such as the Galapagos Finch adapted from one form and evolved into many variants, each exploiting the particulars of their environment.
The IT Marketing people have appropriated the word ‘Ecosystem’ from the Ecologists, but missed other important words they use……‘Niche. In the Ecological and evolutionary world, one size does not fit all as Darwin found with the Finch’s and Tortoises on the Galapagos Islands. They all evolved from a common ancestor and have over time radiated out into distinct types, and in the current PC market this expansion of devices into ‘Niches’ explains a lot. Netbooks are not expected to be made in 2014 as Tablet sales such as the Surface/iPad/Nexus have destroyed the ‘Small & Portable’ Niche that it once held; they have been out evolved and out competed into extinction.
So tablets have successfully filled the Niche that Netbooks once held, but how and why? Well there have been a few things that have helped. The first and most important is the success of the PC itself, where everyone had one and wanted access to the internet, school work, home accounts or games. People have become reliant on the PC as prices dropped and speed, capacity and user friendliness increased. The increase in the speed and capacity was also a hindrance, if you think about the desktop most people do not need an 8 core processor, 8 gigs of ram and 2 terabytes of storage space if all they are doing is checking their e-mails watching YouTube and playing Angry Birds. The Netbook was under powered trying to be a more portable version of the laptop, struggling with screen size and resolution and trying to keep the full size keyboard functions intact. It was cut down in size, but was still trying to be a Laptop offering the full range of functionality.
The second factor is related to the first, and that is a decoupling of the content creator and the contact consumer. Power users will still require more than a tablet to produce good content, they will need more power, more storage, more than the limited functions of a tablet and App combination can provide. Some people do not even need a tablet; a smart phone can cope with day to day use of checking emails and looking up stuff on the web.
The third factor was the development of a specific operating system for Tablets. Keeping with the ‘Ecological’ metaphor, before a great evolutionary leap there are a few dead ends, the best known was the attempt by Microsoft in the early 2000’s to have a Tablet PC, which was basically a laptop with a folding screen and a basic update to Windows XP to make it sort of usable with a stylus. Apples iOS was a game changer, stripping out anything held over from the Desktop versions of the OS and reducing it down to the fundamentals need for touch based devices, and for the consumption of media. Hand in hand with this operating system development has been the movement from the web browsers world, where everything was accessible and linked in your browser of choice to the App centric world. The YouTube app is a great example of this change, the App is designed for the imprecise nature of touch from the ground up with the limits of writing and navigating on a tablet adapted to.
The spread of the ecosystem of devices has impacted on delivery of BI, as now the information that business runs on has further decoupled from the presentation method. We now gather data in our SQL Server Data Warehouse and now connect/deliver to the SharePoint Dashboard, to the Tablet App, to the Smartphone. Each can show the same information but now presented in a way that realises the limitations of the presentation medium. The CEO can check their tablet for the high level figures presented in nice swish graphics and data designed for it. The manager on the move can get bite size chunks of info sent to the smartphone, and the power users in finance can use SharePoint, Excel and Pivot Tables & Cube connections to analyse granular data.
The PC isn’t dead; we have just forgotten what PC means. PC is Personal Computer, and with the spread of devices from the desktop to laptop, to, tablet, to smart phone to….. Whatever is to come…. all that has happened is that ‘Computing’ become more ‘Personal’ it’s now with us all the time, fitting what we need function wise into an accessible form, the PC has become more PC and we suspect that it is going to be with us for some time to come.

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