I recently wrote an article titled throw your tablet strategy away. I wrote this as I observed “phablets”, as well as smartphones more generally, eating further into the sales and use cases of larger format computers.
6 months on, it’s clear that the smartphone is far from finished unseating devices with bigger screens. PC shipments fell a record 10.6% in Q4 2015, despite continued predictions of a PC rebound from analysts. With it, the iPad and other tablets continue to fall from grace, despite the entry of the iPad Pro and Google Pixel C.
With a dwindling interest in desktops, laptops and tablets, some people might ask how anyone is getting anything of value done. The people asking that question might be surprised to learn that 13% of Americans are now smartphone-only, up from 8% in 2013. These are residents who don’t even have a fixed broadband service at home. As reflected upon by Pew, “the reason they do not have broadband at home is because their smartphone lets them do all they need to do online.”
Looking at the trajectory of device sales data, we know that in 2016, the 5 billionth PC will be sold, but the 20 billionth mobile. By 2020, mobile will be at 10x the unit sales and 5x the install base of “PC”.
Evolve or die
The resulting equation for Mac and Windows developer is simple: ignore iOS and Android at your own peril. Those unwilling to build their software for the world’s biggest computing ecosystem are sealing their own fate. They’re asking to be disrupted in as little as 5 years. The computers that everyone has are the ones that should be targeted, not the ones in decline of ownership and usage.
If you question the viability of productivity on mobile operating systems, on mobile devices, you’d be right to do so . However, you’d only be right to do so for a small and shrinking segment of our workforce. I still need my Mac to design on, which will remain the case until a Sketch equivalent reaches iOS. I’ll also need my mobile to be able to drive a larger screen, which is a likely eventuation. Early indicators of this eventuation include Microsoft’s Continuum, Remix OS and Andromium.
Looking at the top 25 occupations in the USA should quickly help everyone understand how most people wouldn’t have the same computing requirements as I would, nor many people interested in this article would. For many people, their smartphone is the only computer they need.
For those relying on a PC for work, it’s important to reflect on the history of computing technology. If it has taught us anything, it’s that old work adapts to new tools. Critics of the PC format said it would be useful if it could run mainframe code. Critics of tablets said they would be useful if they ran x86 applications. Neither of these perspectives are anything but entirely flawed. How you work, in the context of computing, will always evolve to take advantage of the largest scale technology. That’s where the obvious opportunity lies for increased revenue and innovation. In modern terms, that scale was Windows, but it has just become Android and iOS.
Reframing what “real work” is
IT professionals, another workforce minority, can’t feasibly do their work outside of traditional hardware norms — yet. But real work comes in many shapes and forms. Some 3 million people are employed as authors and editors in the USA, which excludes those who blog, students writing essays, and more.
Writing in length on a smartphone may sound like someone’s worst nightmare, yet amongst millennials and those in developing nations it is becoming commonplace. It’s becoming common not just because of economic factors, but technological and cultural ones, too.
Anything that can be done on PC will also be done on mobile, provided it’s intuitive and efficient enough. The truth is that something being intuitive is only perceived as so based on prior experience. The mouse didn’t originate as intuitive, but has become so. For Gen X designers, the idea of younger generations using a trackpad seems impractical, yet it too is happening. Our incredibly impressive 19 year old UI designer at Contact Light does just that.
Abroad, Viranch Damani from Chennai in India, an engineering student and technology journalist, recently Tweeted: “Paid 25k (USD $410) for laptop and use it like once in a week. Paid 6k (USD $100) for a smartphone and use 7 hours a day.” He writes using his Xiaomi Redmi 1S.
Today you can do everything from file tax, to produce vlogs and conduct video conferences on mobile. You can often do so with more pros than cons than on desktop. New ways of getting things done ends up happening just as effectively as the old, especially for natives of new tools.
The PC is dead. Long live the PC.
All this said, there’s still room for the PC and tablet. They’re not dead, but neither is the mainframe. Some people say Elvis is dead, but he made $55 million dollars in 2015 — it’s just that his relevance continues to diminish.