In an announcement that was shocking to some and shrugworthy to others, yesterday Gartner predicted the post-PC era by 2014, stating that most consumer tasks will be performed virtually, in the cloud.
Citing five consumer megatrends in personal computing, independent research firm Gartner is predicting that "the personal cloud will replace the personal computer at the center of users' digital lives"--in two short years, by 2014. The prediction is shocking not in its content but in the anticipated alacrity of adoption. Consumers are already relying heavily on smartphones and tablets for everyday tasks from banking to entertainment consumption to document creation. And with the rise of consumer cloud services such as DropBox, YouSendIt and iCloud, many consumers are already relying on the personal cloud for document and data storage. Not too hard to believe.
To summarize, the five megatrends cited by Gartner as driving this evolution in consumer usage are:
- Consumerization: "Users have become innovators, and through the democratization of technology, users of all types and status within organizations can now have similar technology available to them."
- Virtualization: Rampant virtualization has made applications device-agnostic and more accessible than ever through broadband connectivity.
- App-ification: Applications are now designed with consumers and their myriad devices in mind.
- The ever-available service cloud: Every consumer now has access to a plethora of online solutions and applications to answer any question or solve any problem, which "encourages a culture of self-service that users expect in all aspects of their digital experience."
- The mobility shift--access whenever and wherever the consumer wants: Any given device now has the flexibility to be the user's main device, not just the desktop.
Yeah, makes sense
My reaction to this proclamation was a resounding shrug with an undercurrent of excitement that the personal cloud was getting some acknowledgement. Of course. Who hasn't noticed that consumers are depending more and more on the cloud? DVDs are no longer owned but steamed from Netflix. Files are no longer stored in hard drives in data centers but in DropBox and YouSendIt folders. Information is no longer filed but bookmarked socially using Del.icio.us or Diigo. Photo albums aren't hard copies but online on Facebook and Flickr. Books are no longer printed but published as ebooks and delivered to the Kindle or Nook.
It's not that the evolution wasn't expected. In fact, Wired pointed out that the post-PC world was predicted before; now it's practically old news:
Last week, former Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie, reiterated his contention — building on thoughts expressed two years ago in his “Dawn of a New Day” memo — that we’re in a post-PC world. For a sitting Microsoft exec to utter those words back then was revolutionary. Now they’re just accepted as fact.
Yeah, but is the PC really going to die?
GigaOm was quick to qualify Gartner's bold statement with a few words of caution. While many consumers do rely on a variety of devices for access, reliable broadband access is not yet universal. If you've ever paid $12.95 for two hours of Gogo inflight internet access, you can probably attest to this. The need for offline content creation still exists. Consumers still have a need to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations offline.
The article quotes Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans as clarifying not the absolute death of the PC but the shift to multiple devices, including tablets and smartphones:
“Major trends in client computing have shifted the market away from a focus on personal computers to a broader device perspective that includes smartphones, tablets and other consumer devices,” said Kleynhans. “Emerging cloud services will become the glue that connects the web of devices that users choose to access during the different aspects of their daily life.”
What is a post-PC world?
Are we already in a post-PC world? Yeah, kinad, but it depends on how you define "post-PC world." We are also in a post-radio world in the sense that while radio still exists, it is no longer the sole delivery point for communications as it was in the 30s and 40s. Consumer communications tools and content consumption shifted from radio to television and then to the internet, but each medium still exists and adapted to the change.
The PC will continue to exist as a tool for content creation and collaboration, but it will be one of many, as opposed to the primary tool, suggests Wired magazine:
Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie made recently, saying, “People argue about, ‘Are we in a post-PC world?’. Why are we arguing? Of course we are in a post-PC world,” Ozzie is is reported to have said at a GeekWire-sponsored conference last week. ”That doesn’t mean the PC dies; that just means that the scenarios that we use them in, we stop referring to them as PCs, we refer to them as other things.”
Take Gartner's prediction to mean that the PC is going the way of radio and television: still very much in our lives, but no longer the be-all and end-all of consumer computing. Rather, it is becoming a smaller part of a diverse system consumers use to access information and engage in communication. It's a ball point pen, and the typewriter just came out.