The Post PC Era

Recently at VMWorld. VM Ware CEO and former Microsoft President Paul Maritz stated that, “Steve Jobs said we are entering the post PC Era, we agree with that”. Strong words coming from the man who used to run the Windows division at Microsoft and played a large part in building the Windows empire.  To be clear, in my mind, the PC is not going away but it’s importance will be diminished as new devices and new use case scenarios come into the marketplace.  The Microsoft response has been rather predictable as they move to protect their cash-cow, with yet another new slogan – the PC + era. A world without PC’s is rather unthinkable or unimaginable in Redmond.  It’s a question of seeing the future versus trying to prevent it.  The former has a perfect record so far.  The future is inevitable.  Still maybe the more relevant question is not will it happen but how far off is it.    Maybe it’s already here.

Certainly trends both at the consumer level and enterprise level over the past few years tell us we are moving to a world where the PC is not the centerpiece of our technology universe.  Looking first at the universe of the consumer it seems readily apparent. If Steve Jobs did anything he introduced the iPhone that allowed us for freedom far beyond what we had before with a mobile device.  Did it end the need for a PC?  Am I writing this blog on a iPhone or a PC?  I will give you a hint, it would be a bit slow withe the iPhone.  Though I understand the defensive posture from Microsoft and even agree with it, we are most definitely moving into the post PC era.  One where we will be less tied to the idea of a keyboard.  We are in the connected universe .  It means we will see a lot of innovation in terms of device form factors – some will be single use devices like the Amazon Kindle, however even as I write (you read) this is morphing into a new Amazon Tablet.  It was not that long ago a Garmen GPS was hot, now I can do all that on my iPhone.  I believe that we will finally soon see these features introduced into day-to-day appliances – where on our stove or refrigerator we may have wireless access to provide us relevant information specific to the appliance.  Anything from recipes to repair instructions and support.  It’s one of those scenarios that have been talked about for years, but I think the technology has matured enough to make it a reality.  It’s also a scenario that does not require me to boot up my PC.

At the enterprise level it is really about cloud computing and allowing companies to offload a lot of their IT costs and focus back on their core business.  When I was covering News Corp I heard through the grapevine that Rupert Murdoch viewed IT as a necessary evil.  I think he speaks for a lot of companies who have had to invest in areas of support and services that are not core to their business. Over the years time and time again in the industry you would hear about companies who launched big IT initiatives which were to streamline the company and make them a more agile business, only to have those project fall into disarray and end up costing millions of dollars in cost over runs, and finally  to ultimately fail.  Cloud computing at a high level is an easy sale.  Let someone else worry about your IT infrastructure and get back to what your core competencies as a business are.  The move to the cloud starts in the data center and moves all the way down to the desktops and laptops.

When you think about desktops and laptops it may make you think we have returned to mainframes with dumb terminals. To a certain degree it has.  But I was listening to CNBC one morning and they were talking about Generation Y (those born 1980 or later) and how they use or do not use technology. This generation is the Tablet, Laptop and Mobile phone group. The idea of a desktop is not their thing.  They are also the generation that will feel more comfortable with using cloud based services.  In addition many things that were thought to be only available using the power of the PC are now readily available in the cloud and can be viewed through a web browser.  Think if all the mapping technologies we have available to us today.  We take for granted that all of that is being provided to us remotely and we are just consuming a  service.  We need a user interface to consume services but where those services reside is not relevant to the majority the world’s population.

In the industry we often talk about “tidal wave” changes that transform the industry and how we compute.  Some are obvious and others just happen.  The obvious would be the rise of personal computing, the internet etc..Others are less obvious – One I think would be the convergence of mobility.  One minute it was just a cell phone and the next it was a part of everything.  Our home, our coffee shop, our work etc…It just seemed to naturally happen over time.    The 90’s was the PC era.  The first decade of the new millennium was the software decade.  Now is the decade of the cloud as all we know get set free and is just available for us to consume, wherever and whenever we want.

We can choose to hold onto the past, it’s a natural human condition to do so.  To think of happier times.  Of times when everything seemed to go right.  But unlike humans businesses are not driven by fond remembrances of the past they are driven by the bottom line.  You can be nostalgic about your history but don’t do so at the risk of your future.  In the technology space that is particularly true because it is all about the future and things are meant to change.  The PC changed mankind and will be remembered as a defining moment, but like everything it was not infinite.  By its own creation only one thing was certain that it had to die.  Thanks PC you changed everything but the future awaits and you are not as relevant as you once were.  All revolutions end.  Welcome to the post PC Era and enjoy as in time it will just be a happy memory.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann September 13, 2011

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