JOHN C. DVORAK
The Myth of the Post-PC Era
I’ve never been a fan of the idea that a “post-PC era” is upon us. This whole notion stems from the increased use of mobile phones as Web browsers, combined with the increasing demand for tablets (shipments of which are scheduled to overtake PC segments by next year, if they haven’t already).
This is not like the post-horse era ushered in when the automobile came along. What we’re witnessing is more along the lines of a postrailroad era or a post-book era or a post-movie era. Railroads, books, and movies were never replaced and continue to prosper. Railroads still move more freight than airplanes. And, of course, there was never any real assertion that we were in a postrailroad era or a post-movie era. Nobody said rail or movies are dead, either.
But that’s what they say about the desktop computer. “It’s a post-PC era. The PC is dead.”
This is utter nonsense. Raw sales of an emerging technology, such as tablets, during a decline in PC sales completely ignores the underlying factors. According to Benedict Evans of Enders Analysis, the PC install base is around 1.6 billion machines—almost all of which are being used routinely. The smartphone install base is around 1.2 billion, and tablets are around 200 million. On top of that, the replacement market for the PC reflects the fact that PCs are better built and stay in service for a decade or more.
Exactly how what amounts to complete market saturation for the PC constitutes the death of the PC, or marks a post-PC era, is beyond me.
For some reason it all brings to mind the famous comment about a restaurant by ever-quotable New York Yankee Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
The PC is still king and will continue to be even when the inevitable happens and the smartphone takes over. The smartphone and the desktop PC or powerful laptop computer are not in direct competition—they’re separate markets. The only coincident aspect is that the modern smartphone can run software and browse the Internet. Most people buy both devices if they can. Most families have multiple mobile phones.
This does not put us in any sort of post-PC world. If PC users began to throw out their computers in favor of handsets, then I’d agree the PC is dead. But nobody is sitting at their work desk typing an important company-wide memo on a phone. The phone and tablet are not machines for doing real work.
Now there are people who definitely can do without a computer, and there are more of them than there are people who cannot do without a phone. So there are more phones out there, and eventually all phones will be smartphones. This is not a new trend.
“Post-PC era” is nothing more than a phrase that Steve Jobs coined as part of his marketing campaign for the iPhone and then the iPad. The Apple computer, which would be considered a PC by some definitions, always had a sub-par install base and Jobs was anxious to marginalize the entire desktop computer business that Apple had helped to define.
What I found distressing was the ease with which this meme was absorbed by pundits, companies, and analysts, and now is commonly parroted as fact. This led to the unintended consequences of making decisions based on a myth. Enter Windows 8. Enter full-screen apps. Enter the “app” nomenclature replacing “software” or “programs” or “applications.”
"Bad things happen when you believe in a lie. And this is a lie, plain and simple."
It screws up the desktop PC ecosystem to an extreme. Attention is taken away from important software systems that need to be developed for the PC and Mac platforms. Things are dumbed down that should be amped up.
Bad things happen when you believe in a lie. And this is a lie, plain and simple: a marketing pitch that caught on and worked. And it only caught on because there has always been an element of wishful thinking whereby people hoped these machines would go away or become easy to use or be free.
In reality, the PC is a universal commonplace. It’s not going anywhere. There is no post-PC era. Get over it.
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