She has discussed this with the
(unrelated) man opposite her on the train: "His wife - probably around 50 - is also tablet-only. As is his mother."
It's people like Bernasconi and
Gilliam, and the man on the train's family, and millions like them, who are causing a tectonic shift in the world of computing - one which has seen
The traditional PC business has a problem: it's in decline. The research company IDC reckons PC shipments will drop by 10.1% this year compared with 2012 - from 349.2m to 314m - and continue to dwindle from there, down to 305m by 2017, with no expectation of growth. Sales peaked in 2011, at 361.5m, and they're never coming back. And the examples of Bernasconi, Gilliam and many more show why: people have discovered that tablets
can do pretty much all the computing jobs they want done. They didn't
really need a PC in the first place; all the start menus, "unused icons on your desktop", "New hardware detected" and so on were just distractions from what they wanted to do - which might be answering (or just deleting) email, browsing websites, writing something, calling someone, or playing games. For tasks like that, a fully fledged Windows PC is overkill, as well as unwieldy and short on battery life. A tablet is neat, focused, and its battery lasts longer than a laptop.
Tablet sales are booming. In the three months up to and including Christmas, tablets will outsell PCs worldwide - and by 2016 they'll be seriously outselling them for the whole year.
The PC business, meanwhile, has turned into a replacement market. There are about 1.5bn PCs in use worldwide; the majority are used by businesses. For years, consumers have been buying about half the PCs sold; now they're turning to tablets, and only replacing their PC if they absolutely must. Businesses, too, are
discovering that tablets have some
advantages over PCs.
For instance, the 2012 Greek bailout - the biggest in history, requiring the renegotiation of
laptops, because of security fears about viruses. Because the iPads could be updated in real time, used while on the move, didn't constantly need charging and the progress could be shown
visually, the deal was done.
More prosaically, when a loss
adjuster came to assess a water leak at my house recently, he documented the damage on a tablet, and took pictures with it as he went. All were included in the report which he compiled and sent off as he stood on our sodden carpet. Try doing that with a desktop or laptop computer.
This change has happened at
amazing speed. In
when talk of an Apple tablet was just a well-sourced rumour, I wrote that nobody was quite sure what the new "iPad/iSlate" (the name wasn't yet known) would actually do for us, nor why we might like it.
Then, I noted: "Everyone reckons that tablets just aren't that workable, because they are neither fish nor fowl in computing terms. Yet still they believe Apple can create the device that will be on everyone's menu. 'There's no really clear series of applications which define what a tablet is for,' says [analyst
Then the iPad arrived - to sneers from many bloggers. It's great fun to go back and re-read the opinions of those who hadn't tried it, but were sure it would be a flop: no physical keyboard, no slot for USB sticks or SD cards, couldn't show Flash video, no camera, no HDMI port for TV-out. (Apple did later add front and back cameras, and adaptors for SD cards.)
But none of those omissions
mattered, because it was what the iPad, and the tablets that followed it, brought which did count. They were mobile and really handy: you could pick one up and do a task (search for something, buy something with an app, send a tweet or email) in a
moment and then put it down and get on with something else. Tablets brought us what you could call three-second computing. (At least one of the pundits who called the original iPad "a dog . . . absolutely completely ridiculous" can now be seen touting his use of the latest iPad on his blog.)
And this huge shift has also created upheaval in the boardrooms of the businesses that the PC made rich. At
Surface tablet than it collected in revenues from their sales.
This moment, where tablets outsell PCs, also marks another watershed: the end of the Windows monopoly on computing. It used to be that if you wanted to get something done, you would end up using Windows to do it. But as smartphone sales have
exploded (they passed those of PCs three years ago), followed by tablets, the need to press the "Start" button has stopped. Ask yourself - what was the last consumer app whose popularity depended on being available for Windows? Quick research turns up the file backup service Dropbox, which arrived in
At the same time
Now, developers focused on the consumer market aim for a mobile app first: Instagram (founded
For most people not working in specialist industries, the only everyday desktop essential is Office,
For the incoming
A PC doesn't do just one of those jobs - it can do them all. Yet paradoxically that makes it vulnerable to having particular jobs - such as email or educational uses, insurance reports or streaming
"The PC is a strange beast in that it seems to be a complicated, multi-dimensional product that was hired for different jobs throughout its life," he says. "It seems to depend on new jobs to keep going and these jobs are peeled off by other devices over time. Once it runs out of new jobs it will inevitably decline. At least that's my hypothesis."
That, he says, could suggest that PCs just won't be used for that kind of transaction in eight or nine years. "What's worse is that it looks like PCs will never reach saturation. The penetration of US households, for example, peaked well below 80%. Also, the replacement of PCs will be swifter than the rate of their penetration."
We think that our love affair with PCs was intense but, says Dediu, PC adoption rates lagged behind other technologies including radio, colour TV, microwave, VCR, HDTV, DVD, mobile phone, smartphone and tablets.
For PC companies, making PCs has never been a particularly profitable business; even five years ago, on average they made a profit of around
In short, it's the end of an era. It's not that we will abruptly stop using PCs - specific applications such as professional video editing or machinery control, and uses of Office inside big organisations, won't change for ages. But the PC's position as the only place to do tasks we thought of as "computing" is in danger of vanishing for ever.
The problem is: what does it want to make money from? Apple makes its money from devices, and uses services (such as iTunes) to keep users tied to its platform.
for the new boss
next year. CA
Turnoff. . .
a computer in 1981. Now it's iPads (right and below) that are flying off the shelves
Invasion of the iPad
Sales of PCs v tablets
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