"Post-PC" is Only Partly About "Devices"

Most would credit Steve Jobs, former Apple CEO, for popularizing the phrase "post-PC." Precisely what that means will continue to be debated for at least a while. But most would probably agree that the phrase suggests a growing use of computing appliances other than a PC, and reliance on cloud-based apps and services more than locally-resident software. 

On the other hand, post-PC also can mean that many different appliances might converge on a common operating system core and end user look and feel. Consider Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. 

Microsoft wants to unify Windows Phone devices, Windows 8 tablets and PCs, and its Xbox game console,  PCWorld argues. 

Some of us would argue it is nearly impossible to separate mobility (with the key location awareness) from cloud computing, though. Others might that is part of a growing shift to "ubiquitous" computing as well, where computing is not a "destination" activity tied to a desk.

Part of the post-PC reality is that the cloud increasingly provides storage and processing for a wide range of appliances that can be highly distributed and much cheaper than PC appliances have been in the past. 

It also is true that what people want to do with computers has changed. In October 2012 about 55 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers used  downloaded apps,  while 53 percent used a browser. About 39 percent used social networking apps, 34 percent played games and 29 percent listened to music, according to comScore .

None of that would surprise much of anybody. What might be more unexpected is that consumption profiles of PC and mobile applications is so similar.

In 2011, the majority of all mobile phone owners consumed mobile media on their smart phones and tablet devices, marking an important milestone in the evolution of mobile from primarily a communication device to a content consumption tool.

In December 2011, 8.2 percent of all web page views occurred on devices other than PCs, for example, with mobile devices accounting for 5.2 percent of traffic, tablets driving 2.5 percent, according to the latest Nielsen Cross-Platform Report.

One of Google’s studies of tablet use over a two-week period, which had users recording every occasion that they used their tablet, shows that tablets really are not PCs, any more than smart phones are used in the same way that PCs are used.

Most consumers use their tablets for fun, entertainment and relaxation while they use their desktop computer or laptop for work, Google User Experience Researchers Jenny Gove and John Webb say. About 91 percent of the time that people spend on their tablet devices is for personal rather than work related activities.

And, as it turns out, when a consumer gets a tablet,  they quickly migrate many of their entertainment activities from laptops and smart phones to this new device.

The most frequent tablet activities are checking email, playing games and social networking. The study also found that people are doing more activities in shorter bursts on weekdays (social networking, email) while engaging in longer usage sessions on weekends (watching videos/TV/movies).

Tablets are multi-tasking devices with at least 42 percent of activities occurring while doing another task or engaging with another entertainment medium. Tablets aren’t PCs

As it turns out, lots of things people can do on PCs don’t “need” to be done on PCs. Content consumption, email and other communications actually represent most of what many business users really “have to do” on a PC.

So one reason we are in a "post-PC" era is that content consumption now has become perhaps the most salient activity people want to engage in, on a computing appliance. Diverse screen form factors are important. Cloud platforms are critical. Mobile Internet access is key. 

But what people want to do on a "computer" is the foundation. In an era where content consumption is paramount, a PC is not always the "right" or "preferred" or "only" appliance.

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