Are tablets truly a replacement for the PC? The debate rages on.
In the most basic and practical sense, sure they are. They are thin and light and fun and deliver a fast and fuss-free computing experience. If all you use a computer for is to surf the web, email, post photos to Facebook and do online bill paying, then a tablet will replace your PC quite well.
But can it replace the increasingly thin and light laptops (i.e. ultrabooks) that many of us use for work? Personally I don’t think we’re there yet.
Although there are plenty of Bluetooth keyboards that work with the iPad, the lack of a physical keyboard out-of-the-box is still a tablet drawback for doing serious work. The absence of a full Microsoft Office suite is another shortcoming (though Office cloud-based products like OnLive and CloudOn have been getting notice). Tablets also don’t allow you to multi-task between apps and windows the way a PC can. And for those who aren’t so touch-feely about multi-touch, most tablets do not support a mouse.
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This is not the final word on this debate as the tablet market is unfolding in real time all around us. I just think that to engage in productive, 10-apps-open-at-a-time-on-a-big screen kind of work, the PC, and its trusty keyboard, powerful processing and large-scale storage, is still where it’s at.
Gartner reported that PC sales surprisingly grew by 2 percent in the first quarter of 2012, beating projections of a 1.2 percent decline for the quarter. Yet it’s undeniable that tablets are growing at a much faster rate, and eating into PC sales. It’s pretty much a runaway train.
How will all of this affect Windows 8? Adversely, I would say. In many ways, Microsoft’s pending version of Windows is caught in a perfect storm. And the prediction numbers do not work in its favor.
In addition to its PC sales report, Gartner also recently unveiled its tablet predictions for the next five years. According to Gartner’s stats, Microsoft will have only 8 percent of the tablet market in 2013 (to be fair, Windows 8 won’t even be released until this fall), and only 12 percent of the tablet market by 2016.
The iPad will dominate in the same time period, with Android gaining on the iPad each year, according to Gartner. By 2016, Gartner predicts, 369 million tablets will be sold globally, with Apple claiming about 46 percent of them.
Lord only knows how many of those 369 million tablets will be bought in place of a Windows PC.
If Microsoft is left with only 12 percent of the tablet market in 2016, it really needs the PC market to stay alive and it needs users to embrace the Metro user interface that runs on Windows 8. On a tablet Metro has serious potential, but on a PC it’s just plain awkward and reviews of the Windows 8 public beta have been mixed at best.
Having fewer overall Windows-based devices in the world, particularly the business world, is obviously a king-size problem for Microsoft. As more businesses allow BYOD (bring your own device) programs, an influx of iOS and Android devices are soon to follow. Actually, BYOD is already happening.
Yet BYOD and the consumerization of IT presents a perilous situation for Microsoft because it has long used Windows as the foundation for pushing its lucrative suite of Office business apps (Sharepoint, Lync, Exchange etc). When workers BYOD, they are not bringing Windows devices, at least not as much as they would have three or four years ago.
From where I stand, the PC should remain the de facto machine for doing serious work. It should never die, just get slightly thinner and lighter, and co-exist with the more playful and portable tablet.
But if the PC does shuffle off this mortal coil due to a permanent turn to tablets, then Microsoft better make damn sure all its software works on iOS and Android.