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What you need to know: This weblog captures key data points about the global telecoms industry. I use it as an electronic notebook to support my work for Pringle Media.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why the PC will linger on

This post is sponsored by the Enterprise Mobile Hub and Blackberry

It is too soon for most enterprises to pension off the PC

“The PC era is drawing to a close.” We hear that refrain increasingly often these days.
But is it really? Are we approaching a time when an enterprise CIO can just issue PCs to some specialist employees, such as graphic designers and programmers, and everyone else can have a tablet, with a keyboard for a cover?

At first glance, that appeared to be the consensus emerging from the “State of the Mobile Nation” debate in London sponsored by Hotwire PR and organised by Helen Keegan, Heroes of the Mobile Fringe. But there were some caveats.
“I think we are absolutely moving into a post PC world,” said Azeem Azhar, founder of PeerIndex, which measures people’s standing on social networks.  “What ties us back to our laptops and desktops are certain types of applications and use cases that we can’t get on to the tablet, but as soon as those use cases move across, the convenience of the tablet takes over.” Tablets have already proven to be the ideal tool for one-to-one sales presentations, meaning they have already secured a strong foothold in the enterprise market.  

So, is it time to pension off the PC? Not so fast. Azhar noted that many people use PCs to get access to specific applications, particularly Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. While there are cloud-based workarounds, such as the CloudOn app, that enable you to edit Microsoft Office documents on a tablet, their usability depends heavily on how much latency there is in the network. Although they can work very well, sometimes there may be a couple of seconds delay between hitting a key and the appropriate number appearing on your spreadsheet.
Research firm Gartner said in June that Microsoft still has more than 90% share of the office productivity market on PCs (mostly because no other product is 100% compatible in features or format).
In fact, I suspect Microsoft Office will become a key weapon in the tablet wars:  Tablets running the newly-released Windows 8 operating system are likely to ship with Microsoft Office – a key selling point for an enterprise buyer. But how many enterprises buy tablets?

In companies with a bring-your-own-device culture, many employees already own tablets running rival operating systems. Therefore, a CIO’s strategy for phasing out PCs is highly dependent on if and when full Microsoft Office becomes available for these rival platforms. Note, the word “full”. Commentators are speculating that Microsoft will produce a lighter version of Microsoft Office for iOS and Android that will lack some features. If you can’t add comments to a Word document, for example, that will be a showstopper for many employees.
Microsoft may have to walk a fine line between supporting its operating systems and its Office product suite. If Office doesn’t work properly on many tablets and smartphones, small companies, in particular, may abandon the productivity suite in favour of alternatives from Google, Apple or others. In this scenario, Microsoft might lose traction in a key segment of the market.

PC graveyards?
In any case, programmers and other creative types, such as graphics designers, seem unlikely to give up their PCs for the foreseeable future, primarily because they need a large screen and lots of processing power.  “You know those airplane graveyards in Nevada? Well, we have a 27 inch monitor graveyard in our office,” Eamonn Carey, EMEA director of kiip, which gives people rewards for their achievements in games, told the London panel. “Except for one little corner of the office, which is where the developers sit, where the 27 inch monitors are always turned on because coding on a 13 inch screen or 15 inch screen… is terrible.”

Tablets and smartphones are cannibalising the time spent on PCs, but the PC is far from dead, added Benedict Evans from Enders Analysis. “You are seeing a move away from one platform to many platforms.” Russell Buckley, who chaired the session, summarised the discussion by citing an analogy made by Steve Jobs: We are entering a world where there will be cars (smartphones and tablets) and lorries (PCs). Lorries will be needed for the heavy lifting, but the vast majority of people will have cars that they use most of the time.

But CIOs might want to keep a large fleet of lorries on the road for some time to come. If they haven’t got the right productivity apps, an employee’s “car” might feel more like a bicycle.
This post is sponsored by the Enterprise Mobile Hub and Blackberry. 

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