Technology-Headlines

by George Heymann

Is the PC era finished already?

by A. Montaqim

Technology Market

Nobody needed to say it but PCs were always destined to be superseded by newer, faster, better and – hopefully – cheaper devices. We all knew that, but didn’t think about it. It’s the nature of technology – everything changes, all the time.

But when Mark Dean, Chief Technology Officer of IBM Middle East and Africa, wrote a blog heralding “the post-PC era“, the idea that the PC was on the way out went from the back of everyone’s mind straight to the front.

Mr Dean wrote that he has already moved beyond the PC, explaining that his primary computer is now a tablet. However, he is not blasé about it. In fact, he struck a rather nostalgic note. “When I helped design the PC, I didn’t think I’d live long enough to witness its decline,” he wrote. “But, while PCs will continue to be much-used devices, they’re no longer at the leading edge of computing. They’re going the way of the vacuum tube, typewriter, vinyl records, CRT and incandescent light bulbs.”

Perhaps as a result of this seemingly sudden, earth-shattering admission, companies like Google and Hewlett-Packard are scrambling to take over other key technology companies and restructure themselves in order to fit itself to whatever shape the market takes in the future.

Google has apparently decided that mobile computers is the way things are going. The Internet search giant has agreed to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion – primarily for the latter’s patented technologies. It also helps that Motorola as a brand has a good image among consumers, particularly the young.

Larry Page, CEO of Google, said, “Motorola Mobility’s total commitment to Android has created a natural fit for our two companies. Together, we will create amazing user experiences that supercharge the entire Android ecosystem for the benefit of consumers, partners and developers. I look forward to welcoming Motorolans to our family of Googlers.”

It’s too early to say whether Google will produce a range of devices with the Motorola logo on it or whether it will put the Google logo on it, or both. But it will almost certainly launch devices to compete with Apple‘s dominant iPhone and iPad devices.

Hewlett-Packard, meanwhile, seems intent on going the way of IBM, which sold off its computer-making business to the Chinese, who promptly put their Lenovo badge on them, but has gone on to become the global leader in computer consultancy services.

Hewlett-Packard would do well to emulate IBM’s success, but the old warhorse started its restructuring more than a decade ago. Is it too late for HP and others to do the same? Obviously, executives at HP don’t think so. Otherwise they wouldn’t have agreed to pay $10 billion to buy software company Autonomy.

“Autonomy presents an opportunity to accelerate our strategic vision to decisively and profitably lead a large and growing space,” said Léo Apotheker, HP president and chief executive officer. “Autonomy brings to HP higher value business solutions that will help customers manage the explosion of information.

“Together with Autonomy, we plan to reinvent how both unstructured and structured data is processed, analyzed, optimized, automated and protected. Autonomy has an attractive business model, including a strong cloud based solution set, which is aligned with HP’s efforts to improve our portfolio mix. We believe this bold action will squarely position HP in software and information to create the next-generation Information Platform, and thereby, create significant value for our shareholders.”

Another company that is looking to buy is Apple, which is considering a $3 billion bid for wireless telecommunications specialist InterDigital. However, unlike many other companies, Apple’s products are selling in massive quantities, to the point that the company has trouble keeping up with demand.

Apple’s iPad seemed to have started a mini-revolution, encouraging people to consider ditching their PCs and switch to mobile internet and a completely different operating system. Perhaps that is what persuaded Microsoft to set aside $8.5 billion to buy Skype – seems a bargain compared with the Autonomy and Motorola Mobility deals.

But getting back to the question at hand: is the PC finished? My own opinion is that an increasing number of consumers will access the internet using mobile devices – smartphones and tablet computers. The extent to which they already do has disrupted the entire PC business, and for desktop PC makers, it will only get worse. And it’s Internet access that will be the key driver of change.

If the Internet is accessible using smaller, more portable devices, it’s difficult to see how big, clunky desktop machines will remain a mass-market item. They will always have a place in, say, serious gamers’ homes, or offices that require on-site computing power and storage. But, yes, its days as an essential item for home and office are numbered.

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