Where Does the PC Fit in a Mobile-Centric Universe?
So is this the official word? Wall Street has decreed that the PC is over, done, kaput. Mobile is the new king, ruling over an interactive data realm that the desktop can only barely comprehend.
The evidence is in the numbers. Microsoft took a pummeling not because it lost money in the last quarter, but because it didn’t make enough money to satisfy analysts. Regardless, the culprit was slumping PC sales, which goes right to Redmond’s flagship product, Windows. Interesting, though, that Intel reported an actual loss for the quarter--and in fact has been struggling for quite a few quarters--but saw only a slight drop in value this morning, which is a strong indication that Wall Street has more confidence in Intel’s future in a wireless world than in Microsoft’s.
Of course, we’ve seen all this before: the new technology sweeping out the old, the young generation poised to do away with yesterday’s ideas and customs. I mean, railroads are more than 150 years old--good thing we’ve gotten rid of those rusty old things, right?
What’s really happening, of course, is that the PC is not going away entirely but is now joined by alternate means of data access that, when brought together, makes for a more engaged and productive workforce. That’s because each form of access will cater to a different kind of job. Word processing, database management and other highly specialized tasks are geared naturally toward the desktop. File-sharing, collaboration and the like are suited to the tablet or smartphone, particularly for employees on the go.
Truth be told, there are some really cool developments on both platforms that may ultimately blur the lines between them. Take a look at Compulab’s new ARM-based Utilite, a new $99 PC built around the Cortex-A9 architecture and outfitted with either Ubuntu Linux or the Android OS. The system offers single, dual or quad-core i.MX6 chips from Freescale, with clock speeds up to 1.2GHz, plus 4GB of DDR3 memory and solid state storage up to 512GB. No, it’s not a monster, but it’s small, cheap and capable of a wide range of applications.
And on the tablet side, TabletKiosk’s new Sahara EyeSlate device features built-in eye-tracking technology from a German firm called SensoMotoric. The combo allows users to control the tablet, even access apps, with their eyes. This should do wonders to prevent smudgy fingerprint buildup on the screen, although I hope the company has looked into the long-term effects and isn’t about to unleash a generation of cross-eyed 20-somethings on us.
For the enterprise, the only real question in the mobile vs. PC debate is how to accommodate all forms of user access and maintain employee interactivity in the face of increasing platform diversity. This is where I suspect the cloud will make the transition from cost-saving phenomenon to next-generation IT infrastructure. By hosting environments in the cloud that support unified communications and other movements, the enterprise not only sheds the cost of building and maintaining data infrastructure, but gains the ability to create a highly collaborative, real-time work environment that caters to numerous devices at once. Even better, access devices will never download corporate data because all work would be created, processed, stored and shared in the cloud.
For a company like Microsoft, the trick will not be to successfully transition from a PC world to a mobile one but to foster infrastructure and platforms that offer the most innovative user experience regardless of access. It has a chance to do this with the Azure cloud, but it will have to move fast because Google and Amazon are already hunting for enterprise-ready services.
As for the PC? Well, it has probably already lost its top-dog status, but that’s nothing to worry about. Old dogs are good at curling up in a nice, quiet place where the master can think and get some work done.