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The funny thing about data is, there are often multiple ways to slice it.  And there is never enough of it.  Take the recent (and not-so-recent, if you wish) reports on the death of the PC, for example.  Gartner and IDC produced data about how mobile shipments are taking over and PC shipments are crumbling.  As with anything, to look at the other side of the coin, there have been a lot of posts about how the PC is hardly dying, forget being dead!  Particularly this one on TechCrunch that I really enjoyed reading!

What’s all this data telling us? Is the PC dead? Could it be dying soon? Are the tablet and smartphone owners throwing out their PCs or donating them to charity?  For all practical purposes, I’m using the term “PC” here to denote all desktop and laptop computers, including the Macs – I know, that’s outrageous, but, I’m sticking to it (and yes, I love my Mac, but am not ashamed to call it a PC in the context of this post!).

So, what’s really wrong with this data that is causing all kinds of frantic debates about whether the PC is dead or alive?  For one, it is incomplete.  First, let’s see what it clearly suggests:

  • That mobile shipments are trending towards overtaking PC shipments
  • People are spending increasing amounts of time on mobile devices

Heck, we didn’t need a Gartner or IDC report to actually know that, did we?! Look around in restaurants, trains, subways, streets, malls, wherever and you know this is true – we didn’t think all these people sat around at their PCs to spend that time browsing instead of going about their lives before the era of smartphones, I hope!

So, what is really the problem here? In all the hype to beat up the Microsofts, the Dells and the Intels, we are really not delving deep enough into the data here. Let’s take a closer look at the same two aspects I wrote above:

  • Shipments are trending in favor of mobile devices.  Could it be that more people are becoming owners of multiple devices? Or that the lifecycle of PCs are getting longer, as the TC post suggests? 
  • Percentage of time spent (or advertising revenue or sales, whatever) on mobile devices is up drastically.  Of course, going from nothing to some number is an infinite increase in terms of percentages!  Mobile devices, especially tablets, are still in the early years of adoption!

This data, by itself, certainly says nothing about whether the PC is dead.  The people that are writing about these massive numbers on usage, advertising revenue, internet traffic, etc. coming from PCs are all still right.  But, the really important thing here are a few subtle points that require a more nuanced look at the data.

  • Tablets and smartphones are increasingly becoming the consumption devices. They are easy to use, always-on and don’t require a drastic situation change to interact with. We don’t have to sit up in bed, we can just keep lying down and let’s admit, we love technology that allows us to be lazy!
  • The use of a PC for leisure is declining. For the same reasons as above, we don’t need to be sitting straight to be leisurely connected to the Internet.  And we can do it while watching TV.  Two things we love doing, we can now do together, all while feeling restful! Data suggests people are doing exactly this!
  • Enterprise content creation is still going strong on the PC. Okay, I’m an early adopter, but I don’t expect to be creating presentations and documents on my phone just yet. I’ve tried some of this and it is fairly painful. This needs more innovation and more importantly, we geeks are just not ready yet!

But the reality is that more innovation on the mobile for the content creation aspects will come and come fast.  We are not there yet, but it will come sooner than we think.  Perhaps not for the enterprise use cases yet, but for the leisure, user generated content, it will.  While the PC isn’t dead, it is definitely doing less than it used to.  And it is going to do lesser and lesser for more and more segments of people in the coming years.

It’s just aging, not dying yet!

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