Why Tablets Will Send PCs Toward Oblivion
Mar 22, 2012 5:00 AM PT
As analysts watch the killer success of Apple's new iPad launch -- 3 million sold over the first three days -- I'm seeing a lot more predictions that overall sales of tablets will soon start to exceed those of PCs. Crazy to think of it, isn't it?
PCs are everywhere. Many homes have several, businesses have gobs, and they are a staple item used to connect billions of people to, well, everything.
And yet, tablet sales growth rates are eclipsing the growth of PC sales -- even the generally hot-selling MacBooks Airs and MacBook Pros. The Kindle Fire helped a bit, no doubt, but the iPad is leading the charge in a spectacular way, which makes this growth all the more surprising because the iPad is not a cheap device. A guy can walk into any big-box office supply store and walk out with a pretty functional (and sometimes impressive) laptop for a lot less than an iPad ... or could even buy a PC laptop and a Kindle Fire and still come out ahead in the wallet.
But tablets remain smoking hot -- or, at least, the new iPad remains a hot seller.
As I've been mulling trend over, I'm having a hard time believing that all this is going on because the iPad is just such an amazing, magical device. It's pretty good, for certain, but enough to blast past the PC? We can't be entering a post-PC era just because the new iPad has a super-sharp screen. No way. Something else is going on here.
Or, at least, something more.
I think the flurry of apps and innovation kicked off by Apple's App Store with its developer program has sparked thousands of fantastic apps that are pointed directly at consumers, to appeal directly to consumers. This is a big deal, but it's not enough to drive this much tablet sales action. Email on the go, Web surfing on the go ... yes, kind of cool, but again, not enough to drive this much activity.
I think the key reason, the catalyst that lets so many people buy expensive tablets that do similar things as notebooks, in an era of general economic hardship around much of the world, comes back to entertainment -- movies, TV shows, music and books. In some ways, this sort of entertainment is generally cheap, addictive and it seems so incredibly important when a person is either traveling for work or unable to pack up the family and do go Disneyland. (Sorry Disney, had to say it. No offense. We'll still buy and rent your movies. Except "John Carter.")
So I see many tablet owners interacting with apps, using their iPads to navigate, stay in touch, use FaceTime and the like, but it still seems as if the core element that brings the most joy comes back to entertainment media.
But how does that connect to displacing PCs?
Enter the Clouds
In the old digital media world, I had to store all my music MP3 files on my Mac or PC, plus my TV shows that I bought from iTunes, plus my movies. And DVDs? Some people ripped those and had to store them on their Mac or PC hard drives, too. And all of this takes up space. A lot of it.
Enter the PC or Mac. If you're going to keep all of these files, you need a reasonable Mac or PC to hold them. Sure, you can offload them to external hard drives, but what a pain in the butt. As PCs and Macs age, sure, you can upgrade them to get faster processors and bigger hard drives -- or upgrade the hard drives.
But as you start doing this, you think about the cost: Do I really need a new computer that's somewhat faster than my old computer? My old computer still works pretty well; why don't I just upgrade the hard drive. Or ... hey, what's that new Apple announcement about iCloud? And my favorite old TV show seasons ... Hey, wait a minute! I don't have to store gigabytes of TV shows on my hard drive at all anymore -- Apple is keeping my purchase history in my iTunes account, which will let me stream them at any time.
That move alone, by the way, freed up 40 GB or so of data from my own hard drive. Why? I couldn't see deleting them, and I wanted them handy just in case. Never mind that I hardly ever watch any TV shows that I've already seen. It was/is an emotional connection to some damn fine stories.
And it's not just Apple, iTunes and iCloud. Amazon.com has its own cloud music and storage lockers, and it keeps track of purchases for you. Plus, there's the juggernaut app, Netflix, which might be more responsible for letting PCs gather dust than anything else. With Netflix, you can stream thousands of movies right to your smartphone or tablet. And now the same goes for Amazon's Video on Demand service.
Too Much Muscle
As a consumer, now I'm trained to look to a small, mobile screen for my entertainment. I have no nagging old-school fears about permanent storage, or even pretty Mac or PC screens and fast access to movies. Heck, with an Apple TV, I no longer have to even stream from my Mac -- I can stream content directly from my iPad or iPhone and bypass my Mac entirely.
This means that a major need for consumer PCs has been wiped out and marginalized in the span of months, and it's not because the iPad has a brilliant screen or mobile games.
Last of all, there's one more reason why tablets are selling so well: the saturation of PC/Mac power. What do I mean? For most basic tasks, the processing power and memory requirements of our PC and Macs can now suffice for a long, long time. We don't feel pain and agony as we browse to do online banking -- it's still pretty fast, even on older computers. This means there's no longer dire need to upgrade PCs, and it throws the door wide open to pretty, shiny things with glowing screens.