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Is computing as we know it already a thing of the past?

Walk around just about any office in the world and you will see a common thread, a screen, a keyboard, a pointing device sometimes these are in desktop cases sometimes they come in mobile form, in most houses the same can be said even in the less than affluent a areas of the world there will be a PC somewhere.

We live in a world where announcements for new Operating Systems are events, Windows 8, Mountain Lion generate loads of press outside the tech arena.

However we are seeing the end of a dying model, the last great triumphs of the old regime happening right in front of our eyes. The simple fact that Microsoft even need to spend over $1b usd on advertising a new release of Windows is just one indicator that there is change in the air and it shill be blowing a gale, cleaning out the cobwebs very soon.

Worldwide PC sales are down and taking a tumble in a big way, pretty much the only vendor making a profit in the PC hardware arena right now is Apple as the MacBook is seen as a tie in product to its iOS range of devices. That’s right tablets and phones are driving Apples hardware sales on PCs. Apples IOS division on its own is worth more than Microsoft in revenue and that is I huge shift in power in a very very short space of time.. The last time this was seen was when Microsoft made the mainframe/mini computer market of IBM redundant in the late 70s. Historically that was the last big change in the computer industry.. From time share to desktop, since then it’s been all about desktop PCs getting bigger and powerful and operating systems taking advantage of that power.

Think about this, what has changed on Windows between windows 3.1 and windows 7?

The GUI looks a little different but you have windows, icons, double click launches an app, do it again and two apps open, you can cut and paste.. The underlying OS maps memory better, it looks prettier, still has notepad, solitaire, paint. It allows you to add a few more devices but realistically Windows, OSX both have not really innovated in over 17 years, they have just grown up.

For a while there was an urge to update, we did it religiously however for Microsoft Windows XP put pay to that.. Still a hugely used OS with Microsoft doing no major update for 6 years something changed.. The Internet arrived..

We were happy with Office 2003 it does what we need, the ribbon bar of 2007 was something we didn’t need.. Our printer works, our scanner works and we can get on the Internet… Then Microsoft did something so terrible even it’s most ardent resellers baulked at it the released a dead update to XP.. Vista so bad ever your mother knew it..

Around the same time as vista arriving and with all our Internet savvy ness we were introduced to something which started the beginning of the end.. The smartphone or more specifically the iPhone love it or hate it it changed the landscape because for the first time the average user found out they didn’t need a PC to connect to the Internet they could do it on the move, on the train into work discreetly no mouse, no booting up, no double clicking, no pop ups, no av needed..

This has spawned whole industry changes which is causing us to fall out of love with the laptop and desktop PC and in love with the mobile device. Screens on phones have found a good size and the same on tablets and now services are catching up..

Streamed Gaming

The first thing I always get cited on in conversations like this is gaming, the PC will never die because PC gaming is so strong. Let me get something very straight the PC is not going to die, however it’s not going to be used in the same way you need to, and as for gaming you are so wrong if you think this is going to save the PC. The future if gaming is the pay to play streaming model. The gaming industry has been all but killed over the last 10 years because of piracy and if there is a business model which means you or I don’t have any install media or a place to install it you better believe they are going to be right behind it.. You don’t need a powerful device to stream games maybe something with a nice GPU but that doesn’t need to be a PC..

Tablet PC

The next thing I get told is that the Tablet PC market is a fad, well those are some mighty huge sales figures for a fad.. Tablet sales are actively killing the consumer PC market.. Why? Easy, they are easy to use, software is cheap, they give you anywhere Internet the list is long. However the current crop of tablets are just the beginning the bridge device to the new era of computing.. In just the same way the Palm was the first smartphone and a bridge device and arguably the iPhone took the idea and made it commercially mainstream rather than me and my geek brethren looking nerdy the iPad and Android tablet are the gateway drug, we are not even close to where tablet computing is going to end up and the reason for that is simple. While we love the tablet the real hardcore services we know and use are not ready to jump off the PC just yet, we are not quite ready to wholesale ditch printing, office suites and over sized spread sheets as a collective yet.

This is however changing..

The Web is key

The last few years have taught us as consumers some key lessons which are going to help us move forward and allow us and the next generation of consumers use IT in a very different way. We learnt all about the internet first as a consumption platform then we learnt that we could be social over this platform we can communicate from the desktop and on our mobiles, then we learnt the most important lesson so far, as well as communicating and being social we could create content online. We didn’t need to spend a huge sum of money on Microsoft Office at home. Google, Zoho and other providers gave us online office apps, picasa, picnic anda myriad of other online systems popped up providing us with the ability to create content on line, edit it, share it..

It wasn’t the fact we could do this on learn however which was the biggest lesson it was the fact we could do this online from any platform. And it is this lesson which is teaching us that we don’t need to be tethered to the PC.

Touch and Talk

The problem with breaking away from the PC however is while the internet is platform agnostic, as are web apps however the problem with agnostic solutions is getting input into them. We currently use the keyboard and the mouse however this doesn’t work when you are sitting infront of the TV. And yes its the TV which will be your new computer screen.

Right now its Speech which is the favoured input, and how we interface with a non PC system is one of the issues currently faced. There are many alternatives to the keyboard, all in their early days, speech, motion detection and retina detection. Who knows where this might lead however it is a problem which needs to be solved.

The current solution is virtual keyboards however this isn’t the long term answer.

Power of Media

We have already covered the pressure the gaming industry has had with Piracy, they are not the only media outlets to have this issue. The music and video industries have the same problems and just like the games industry will push hard for the streaming media model where they control the content, distribution and delivery because the current model just like the games industry is costing them a fortune, or so we are told. Getting content off the shelves and into the cloud is cheaper, provides higher rate of margin and less potential for loss or revenue with Piracy, so if you are a media company these Kindles, iPads and Android Tablets with the lock down and easy payment solutions must seem like a gold mine compared to PC’s which have the ability to rip the streamed media.

The publishing industry has also been seeing a huge decline in sales, just this week 80 year old Newsweek has announced its going digital only. No printing costs, distribution costs, more media rich content and again delivery platforms with a degree of lockdown must be seen as a cash cow in this fragile economy.

Pay as you go

The software companies too are not imune to the Internet, they were quick to cotton on to digital distribution method, however are very aware that they can generate revenue using a pay as you go business model. Dont spend a fortune buying Adobe Photoshop pay for it on a per use over the web model. Every big software house is going web and app.

What of the future..?

So where are we going? Well the PC is dead or dying at least and as sales are dropping in PC’s and Tablets at the very least becoming the second home device and if you look around on Trains, planes and buses very quickly being the carry around device for more and more people. We are sitting on the verge of huge change, looking at the current crop of desktop operating systems everyone is trying to make the crossover as painless as possible with more mobile device like features being delivered to us. Windows 8 across the board, IOSifcation of OSX and Ubuntu’s Unity maybe getting it right on a cross platform solution while winding up its user base at the same time.

What do you think? Do you think the PC is dead?

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