Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Tablets Set to Reverse PC Decline

The sale of PCs has been sliding for a few years, pretty much in parallel with the rise of the iPad.  It makes sense, given the current economic situation that seems reasonable - there's only so much cash sloshing around so a choice to buy one device limits the options for another.  But more than that, the iPad showed that there are other ways of computing.

The iPad came with an interface that was intuitive, that stretched and slid items around the screen without the need for a mouse.  All you needed was a finger or two, and consequently the computer buying public showed two of them to the PC industry.  Year on year, since the iPad appeared on the scene, PC sales have  declined.

To be fair to Apple, or in fact to Steve Jobs, they pulled a blinder with the iPad and the iPod before it.  I can only imagine the look of horror on the boardroom faces when Steve walked in, sold them the concept of the iPod and then said that anyone would be allowed to develop apps for the device.  Not only that, although nobody was allowed to make a device that could run iOS, anybody could build under license devices that connected to the new hardware.  He wrapped the apps up in the iTunes store, making  millions for Apple on the way while controlling the quality and by letting you, me and the guy down the road make docks for the iPads he ensured that Apple had a wide variety of interfaces for the iPad that Apple didn't have to design or worry about selling well.  Genius.

The only problem is that the iPad, smart that it is, attractive and cool too, isn't a business tool.  When it arrived it was a solution looking for a problem, and quickly it found them.  Apps sprung up left, right and centre, our music management issues - the ones we'd largely been oblivious to previously, was solved by iTunes.  Book management was pretty well sorted too, although Amazon probably thought they'd addressed that particular issue already.  The ability to catapult cartoon birds through virtual air was sorted quickly enough and in no time at all every possible permutation of Maj Jongg, Sudoko and other games for the traveller and individuals short on friends appeared too.  But no true business applications.

Which is a bit of a surprise when you stop and think of it, after all, Apple make some pretty well respected business machines.  They may not have a track record of designing business software - they've traditionally bought that in, although anyone remembering the arguments between Apple and Microsoft initially over Microsoft Office will recall it wasn't always easy.  But they have carved a perfect niche in desktop publishing and arty graphical work over the years.  My guess - and it is a guess, I'm no expert in graphical arts - is that PCs can do pretty much the same task as a Mac can now, for a fraction of the price, but the reputation in the publishing industry resists tarnishing the network with anything not a Macintosh.

But Microsoft have recognised that the humble tablet needs a purpose, have spotted a gap, and have designed Windows 8 to deal with it.  I'm sure, like all previous Microsoft operating systems it will prove to be an advanced beta version until at least the second release version - they do have a habit of letting us normal users shake down their software - but it does allow Microsoft Office applications to run on it.

And they have taken a leaf out of Apple's book, but to be fair I think Apple borrowed it from Microsoft initially.  Although they are manufacturing their own tablets for this software, they're really keen on others doing the hard work - the HPs, Dell, Samsungs of this planet.  That way they are ensuring that Windows 8 will appear in a myriad of forms, colours, features and price points that MIcrosoft really doesn't have to worry about too much.  Of course, they will want them all to succeed, because inside every successful Windows 8 tablet is, well, Windows 8.

So it isn't a surprise to find that analysts believe that PC sales are going to grow rapidly over the next two to three years.  Don't expect much action in the desktop sales - their decline will continue sharply except for those that have touchscreen monitors connected, maybe.  Laptops with touch screens are going to see a real increase in sales and Windows 8 tablets are set to lead the attack.  Especially as the no-name manufacturers in China are now gearing up their low cost Windows tablets for general sale.  The growth in mobile PC sales is forecast to grow from 360 million devices last year to over 760 million devices by 2017.

I'll be surprised if Apple take this lying down - once we start buying tablets that can do our office tasks as well as flick birds with a temperament problem skywards in meaningful numbers there will be less of an imperative to spend what is left of out finite fiscal resources on a replacement iPad, no matter how sexily it is dressed up.  So I'm expecting the next generation but one iPad to start looking like a business tool.  It may even be the next generation - I understand the iOS is undergoing a massive overhaul, being simplified and made less fussy.  Perhaps that's to make the transition to a real business machine easier.  At least Apple have the heritage to do this.  I'm not sure if Google have thought it through.

So before you buy your next tablet computer ask yourself what you'd really like to do with it.  If the answer genuineness is surf the web, send emails, watch you tube, play music and games, then maybe the iPad is for you.  But if you want to do more, then look further afield, Windows 8 devices might just be what you are waiting for.


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