What Device Sales Indicate About Next Era of Computing

If in fact we are moving towards the next era of computing after the “PC era,” it should not come as a surprise that the types of computing devices also are changing. Tablets, which derive much of their value from cloud apps, content and storage, provide one example.

But the best example is a Chromebook, a device that relies nearly exclusively on cloud-based computing to provide value. To a growing extent, smartphones provide value by use of cloud-based content and apps as well.

Virtually everyone might agree that something important in computing architecture is happening, namely the transition from an older ear to a newer era.

Some of us prefer to call the earlier eras of computing “mainframe, minicomputer, PC,” followed by the current era, which seems not to have a universal appellation.

Others might say the eras are “mainframe, personal computer, web era, device era.” Some might specify the eras as corporate, personal, ambient.

Yet others might differentiate computing eras by computing architecture. IBM has spoken of “mainframe, departmental, PC, Internet and Social as earmarks of how enterprises use computing.

The point is that the signature devices in each era are different. Mainframes and minicomputers were used by only a few enterprises. PCs were adopted by consumers. Then came the Internet, and phones became computers. Recently tablets have gotten traction.

So we should not be surprised that devices optimized for the coming era of computing are grabbing more share of computer sales.

The issue is pinning down precisely the main characteristic of the next era of computing, which might be said to include attributes such as ambient usage, based on highly personal devices and relying on cloud resources to provide computing utility.

That would include tablets, smartphones and Chromebooks, to various degrees. Phones are most uniquely personal and ambient, while tablets and especially Chromebooks rely on cloud computing for core functionality.

So whether we emphasize “mobile or ambient,” types of devices or architectures, the elements of ambient and cloud-based would seem central to any description of the coming era.

So sales of cloud-based appliances should grow smartly. NPD Group reports that Chromebooks to commercial customers (not consumers) accounted for 21 percent of all notebook sales, for example, up from negligible share in the prior year, and eight percent of all computer and tablet sales through November 2013. Chromebooks represented just one tenth of a percent of notebook sales in 2012.

By definition, a Chromebook uses a cloud-based computing architecture to provide value.

Tablet sales likewise are an instance of reliance on cloud computing. Tablets represented more than 22 percent of all personal computing device sales sold through the commercial channel through November 2013.

For some of us, the important observation about business customer device sales is the uptick in devices that rely centrally on cloud computing for value. 

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