With IBM preparing to furlough most of its U.S. hardware staff, computing traditionalists are reminded once again that the personal computer as we know it is on its deathbed. The question for most of us is whether to keep our PCs on life-support or pull the plug.
Last week, Forbes’ Alex Konrad reported that hardware — including servers, power and storage systems — “had been the worst performing division for the company, down 12 percent year to year,” according to IBM’s 2013 Q2 results. No, the news didn’t concern its PC business, which Lenovo bought back in 2006. But the specter of hardware decline in general highlights the decline of the PC.
Make that the accelerating decline of the PC. In March, IDC predicted that the global PC market would shrink by 1.3 percent in 2013. By May, IDC revised its 2013 forecast, predicting a decline of 7.8 percent. And that 7.8 percent fall comes on the heels of the 3.7 percent decline in the global PC market that IDC tracked in 2012.
PC Death and the Personal Computing Renaissance
Ironically, the fall of the PC is ushering in a new and arguably superior era of personal computing. With smartphones and tablets, users can do many of the tasks that once required a desktop or laptop PC — check Facebook and Twitter, watch YouTube, play casual games, send email, run business apps and more.
But unlike the PC, smartphones and tablets are eminently portable and let users work — and play — anywhere they have a cellular or wireless connection. Maybe that’s why IDC expects tablet shipments to surpass portable PC shipments in 2013 and total PC shipments in 2015.
Beyond mobility, the next generation of devices will expand our personal computing options with new form factors and input methods that will change the way we interact with and think about technology. Simply put, computers and computing will become increasingly transparent.
Think about it. The de facto personal computing experience for a lot of us is staring at a screen, immobilized, sitting in front of a computer — desktop or laptop — typing on a keyboard and navigating a cursor with a mouse or track pad. It’s anything but transparent. Going forward, your personal computing experience will not be dominated by the computer.
Technologies for Transparency
We’re moving toward greater transparency with technologies like Siri, Apple’s natural language user interface. You don’t have to stare at your iPhone or iPad to use Siri. Just hit the Home button and start talking. Siri will send messages, schedule meetings, answer questions and more. It’s a powerful, liberating way to use a computer that doesn’t require your total absorption.
Gesture and motion recognition technologies are also evolving the personal computing experience. For instance, the Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone can be controlled via Air Gestures. Instead of physically tapping or wiping or swiping the phone’s screen, Air Gestures let you wave your hand in front of the phone’s sensor to display time and date, notifications, unread messages and other information. There are also Air Gestures for scrolling through web pages and email messages, accepting incoming calls and more.
Meanwhile, wearable technology like Google Glass provides a glimpse of a personal computing future in which the computer is omnipresent yet barely perceptible, at least according to some who have worn them for any length of time. Worn like a pair of reading glasses, Google Glass is hands-free augmented reality. You can record what you see, and you can see what you need in the moment — traffic directions, text messages, travel information and more.
These new technologies and others are paving the way to a new style of personal computing. Don’t get me wrong: the PC isn’t dying off tomorrow. The technology deathbed is a curious piece of furniture. The mainframe has spent over two decades on its deathbed but refuses to kick the bucket. In fact, the System Z mainframes were up 10 percent in Q2, bucking IBM’s dismal hardware performance overall and showing strong performance in the quarter.
Bottom line, people who prefer to work on a PC will be able to do so for the foreseeable future. And people who want to move on and work with something more mobile and more transparent will be able to do that, too — and kiss their PCs goodbye.
Raj Sabhlok is the president of Zoho Corp., which is the parent company of Zoho.com and ManageEngine. Follow him @rajsabhlok.