Since the first IBM personal computer hit the market in 1981, the desktop PC has increasingly come to dominate the global computing landscape, with an estimated one billion machines in service globally in 2008. Until very recently, that appeared to be the high water mark for the PC. With the popularization of tablets, smartphones and other mobile computing platforms, PC sales have been in significant decline over the last few years.
This led many industry watchers to conclude that 2014 would be the year of the tablet and possibly the end of the PC. Gartner projected 2014 tablet sales growth of 53.4 percent (a slight rise above the 2013 gains of 51.8 percent), with an 11.2 percent decline in PC sales. Forecasts by IDC and other analysts made similar predictions.
Organizations eager to leverage the strengths of new computing platforms, however, should take these analyst predictions with a grain of salt. Seeing opportunity, the technology industry is meeting these market forces with a new generation of innovative devices designed to bridge the gaps between the PC, tablet and smartphone computing worlds.
For the PC world, falling fortunes have dramatically reversed themselves in 2014 as analysts have reported that actual sales of tablets have not simply slowed, but have plummeted, with a meager projected 12 percent growth in 2014. The precipitous fall of PC sales, in contrast, appear to have hit a plateau. With a second-quarter decline of only 1.7 percent – the smallest drop recorded in the last two years – the PC appears to be on the road to recovery. In July, Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly stated in an interview that tablet sales were “crashing” in 2014.
Does this mean that the mobile device movement has come to an end? Not even close.
The PC resurgence stems from a number of different factors, starting with Microsoft’s decision to officially retire Windows XP® support in April 2014. An estimated 30 percent of PCs in operation in 2013 – roughly 500 million worldwide – still used the 12-year-old Windows XP operating system. Newer versions of Windows require newer, more powerful machines, leading many legacy PC owners to finally upgrade their hardware.
Major tablet projects reported in 2013, meanwhile, have encountered obstacles and setbacks. The Los Angeles Unified School District announced a $50 million plan last year to equip over 30,000 students with an iPad® in the classroom. The effort, which would have been one of the most extensive tablet projects in the country was met with serious problems in its early trial phases. The iPads were ultimately recalled and the school district now plans to move forward with a plan to offer schools their choice of different laptop and netbook PC models – such as the Lenovo® Yoga Touch, Microsoft® Surface™ Pro 2, Dell Latitude™ and Google Chromebook™ – instead.
Tablets, however, continue to thrive in many work, educational and personal environments. An estimated 10 million iPads are currently in service in schools around the country and 44 percent of kids today are using some type of tablet for learning. Tablet use is still rising in the enterprise, in the doctor’s office and in retail businesses everywhere ranging from restaurant chains to department stores. Walmart, for example, recently released a mobile checkout app that enables their customers to quickly scan and pay for their purchases with a mobile device. Mobile computing is here to stay, and tablets and smartphones are increasingly finding their way into new niches and unique service areas.
The line between mobile device and personal computer, is now becoming increasingly blurred as the newest generations of PCs are incorporating touch screens, ultra slim profiles and convertible form factors. The desktop “beige box” has been replaced with new standards: “hybrids,” slim notebook PCs that can be easily converted into a tablet or vice-versa. By combining the mobility and convenience of a tablet with the power and software compatibility of a traditional PC, these new hybrid systems are likely to capture a large share of the PC upgrade market.
These are all critical points to remember for organizations anticipating making increased investments in mobile devices in the coming months. The mobile revolution is real, and the shift to BYOD computing is still one that will only grow stronger over time.
The future, however, will not look like a simple swap of hegemony from desktop PCs to another single, broad technology. Tomorrow’s work environment, rather, is most likely going to be a complex mix of different devices, each ideally suited for a specific range of tasks.
Mobile computing is a powerful – and growing –competitive advantage.
As your old machines retire and new, more unique and specific devices replace them, the various technologies used to store your critical data are going to become smaller, more versatile and increasingly portable. More and more often, workers are finding themselves untethered from their desk, doing much of their work on the road, on a client site or at home. Organizations that empower their teams with mobile technology enjoy and will continue to enjoy an immense and growing competitive edge over those that do not. Moving to mobile is no longer really a choice.
Beware one-size-fits-all computing trends.
While the industry hype may today revolve around specific mobile computing platforms and brands, the actual trend is not toward mobility per se but toward task differentiation. Tablets and smartphones are finding homes in areas that PCs could never serve, as well as in jobs that lightweight mobile systems are better suited for than bulky computers. PCs however, continue to dominate in more heavyweight jobs that exceed the capabilities of their smaller, cheaper touchscreen cousins. With a new wave of hybrid, convertible, wearable and other innovative computing platforms making their way to market, no one technology will cover all the bases. Instead, assemble and support a community of flexible, task-specific mobile platforms that fits how your team works.
Follow the user.
At the heart of the mobile movement is the simple idea that the user is in control and that given the choice they will adopt and use the technologies that best fit their needs. As the computing industry continues to move toward more flexible and mobile platforms, BYOD will become less of a policy and more of a basic reality: your users will bring their own devices, expect to be able to use them to accomplish more things, and will ultimately drive most of your organization’s major IT decisions.
Be aware of your users’ needs and develop a mobile strategy that accommodates a wide range of platforms and service demands.