I wanted to write another techno-centric piece, without the focus on “techy terms” or much of what most consumers can’t understand. I know that I have attempted this prior; however these were more “stabs” than actual successive articles which probably bored most of those who did not at least have some technical background. Will this be the writing that “changes everything?”
Back in 2010, when the iPad originally came out, Steve Jobs announced a new idea he coined as the “post-PC world”. To be clear, Jobs was not the first to use the term, however he was the first at making it a conscious thought in the mind of the collective world. Smartphones and the devices which resulted from such internet-connected devices have forever offset the personal computer industry, “changing everything” in its wake. Although I believe that this is not as drastic or urgent people are making it, I do see a decline of the PC. Windows 8 is not slowing this down either, as most consumers I have spoken to despise the new touch-centric look it has, and it is becoming “another Vista” in Microsoft’s history. They always say “third time’s a charm.” The other two times of failure were Windows ME in 1999 and Windows Vista in 2006. Perhaps the saying goes both ways?
What prompted me to write this note involves recent news stories of HP releasing Android and Chrome computing devices, and the company’s CEO Meg Whitman announcing their slow shift away from Windows computers. This does not mean that we will see HP disappear out of nowhere from selling classic machines, but they will no doubt gradually decline from doing so. I predict this to take no more than 3-5 years at most, as the world around us continues to accelerate through the pace in which people turn more mobile.
Will Windows 8.1, the next version of Windows, save Microsoft? This is debatable, however I have a high opinion that it will not. Microsoft will continue manufacturing the Surface line of tablets (Pole: How many readers have heard or used a Microsoft Surface?), but companies are not happy with Windows anymore. It is a dinosaur, and the natural event which will cause its demise will happen sooner than later. Just as several theories exist for why dinosaurs became extinct, the way in which this will happen is up in the air. (Pun intended if you think meteorites!) People hate Windows 8 not because it is touch-centric, but because the interface which it presents is not ideal and combines a complex monster made up of limbs from Windows 7 and a head from an entirely new species.
Can Windows 8.1 transition the product over to a touch-only experience? It is clear that with Windows 9 or 10, Microsoft will get rid of the desktop, and slowly the ability to run programs such as Photoshop, standard Windows applications which people have come to use and love. These might make it to the new touch-screen style transition, whereby you could buy them from the Windows Store as an app entirely re-made for tablets. There is just one problem.
Since Windows has been the basis of personal computers for over 20 years now, scrapping it even in small steps is going to be a disaster. People want compatibility, and for Windows 8/8.1/9 to start over as a brand new OS like a phoenix rising from the ashes is just not viable. This is because by the time Microsoft, the dinosaur company, completes this process, Android will have existed on the market for 10 or so years. It will have a massive list of apps, it will be commonplace and well known in households, and Windows will be the baby bird trying to flutter up with less and less support.
To me, HP’s statements are just proof that this is indeed the timeline which is taking place slowly. PC shipments are gradually dropping year after year, although as of recent the trend is slowing down but not entirely stopping. Tablet shipments are rising, and while they are nowhere near the amount of PCs which ship, in 3-4 years they will climb higher.
I know many will say that they are just a fad, like Netbooks were in 2010. However, consider the following logic. Netbooks first appeared on the scene in 2008. They lasted until 2010, no later than 2011. That is only two years, during which the sales tanked so low that every single company withdrew from making them. Tablets appeared in 2010, and over 3 years later, they are still growing strong. Android tablets have now overtaken iPad ones, with 60% of them in use running Google’s OS. There is no sign that these machines will decline either; Unlike Netbooks which had warnings through their slow and cheap performance, tablets complete the tasks they are intended for in a timely fashion.
Let us discuss Apple for a bit, the “other darling” which could be said started the innovation process. Tim Cook, the new CEO Jobs appointed, is seriously ruining the company. When the iPhone 5C launched a month ago, every journalist expected it to become the “low cost iPhone”, something in the price range of $250-350 without a contract. This figure would have placed it well below the $649 starting price of the iPhone 5S, but well above the cheapest Android phones ($99 outright). Basically, Apple’s pricing, with enough to make some inroads into those Asian markets where growth is needed. Yet Cook and his company announced something which costs $450-500, is made of plastic, and has internal specs of the iPhone 5. While iOS 7 has been received well by most, it has had enough bugs for Apple to release 3 updates in just two-weeks time. The animations make it crawl on older iPhones, which is not at all how previous updates made iPhones run. The iPhone 3GS ran iOS 6 decently, and the 3G’s 5.1 version also suffered from minimal lags. The winds are changin’ at Apple, and perhaps not for the good, especially if they keep up the yearly cycle of new product releases. In a year’s time, Google will have captured over 85% of the mobile market, making it a worse monopoly than what Microsoft was in the 2000s.
There is hope. I realize that a lot of this has been filled with my absolute pessimism for the future of technology and the changes forthcoming. Convertibles are increasingly becoming the transition from PCS to tablets. These are devices which allow you to attach a keyboard and have a full PC experience with a touch screen. The iPad’s design is not well suited for this, however Windows could still have hope in making inroads here. Android is also a contender, since phones with physical keyboards are still supported (although no longer commonplace), and they could easily take it to convertibles. We still run into the problem of Windows’ shedding though, so there is a good chance Android will win the convertible space more than Apple or Microsoft will.
Microsoft might also survive through the Windows Phone branding. While Windows Phone runs Windows, it is what Windows “will be”. These phones only sport the new touch layer, meaning they will never run applications from the past. If momentum builds up for these phones, the experience might be possible to take over on to the “post-PC” world. Strategy is needed for this to work, and I will not pass judgment on whether the company has the drive to pull it through during a time of death for Windows or not.
I know all this is very, very controversial. I suspect many will spark debates with me either on or off-note, on how I have my logic skewed, or that my figures are not correct and have no meaning. However, this time of transition is unquestionable and everyone knows that it is happening. Just 7 years ago, smartphones were about as common as personal computers were in 1985. In 7 years, they have become nearly as popular as microwaves are today. Try listing off friends who you know without a smartphone. Personally, I might only be able to showcase two or three people in total. Never underestimate the swiftness of change, and how quickly it courses through the vanes of our society.