The PC and laptop markets have more to fear than just consumers switching to tablets and smartphones: Small business owners are making the leap as well.
In a recent poll of more than 2,000 small business owners, Portfolio.com found that 37 percent of SMB owners have used a smartphone or a PDA in the past year, an increase of 10 percent over 2010. When asked about iPads and apps, 9 percent responded that they have used an iPad, and 31 percent responded that they used apps for business. Desktops, notebooks/netbooks, and laptop usage among SMB owners have all decreased compared to last year.
This isn't a big surprise, and Portfolio.com agrees: “It shouldn't be a shock to anyone that technology has dramatically changed the way entrepreneurs and company owners do business,” said J. Jennings Moss, Portfolio.com's editor, in a press release. “What is a surprise is how quickly some tools we thought were indispensible, like laptops, are being cast aside for mobile devices and tablets.”
EBN’s own poll shows that around 60 percent of respondents believe that tablets are hurting PC sales. Only about a quarter, so far, say PCs sales aren't being affected.
The Portfolio.com findings also show how SMB owners are significantly increasing their usage and reliance on technology, especially the Internet as a critical business tool. Among the key findings:
- The Internet has become a more stalwart business tool for SMB owners, with 74 percent considering the Internet as one of their most valuable business tools, up from 65 percent the previous year.
- The majority of SMB owners (55 percent) are connected to their businesses online for eight or more hours a day.
- 70 percent of SMB owners responded that technology has greatly increased their companies' productivity and is helping their lives stay more organized.
- 71 percent said they research products for purchase online, while 58 percent look for business news online, versus 55 percent and 52 percent in 2010, respectively.
As a former small business of one (freelance writer) for four years, I can vouch for these statistics. All of my freelance colleagues use the Internet at least as much as the Portfolio.com data indicates. However, most of us are still using PCs and laptops for the bulk of our work. That could be because of our niche — as writers, a full-size keyboard and screen are assets. However, I also know a lot of salespeople, and they use tablets and smartphones extensively. Mobility and access to information are key.
The SMB tablet/smartphone numbers aren't big yet, even though they show significant growth year-over-year. Here's what I think will be the tipping point: corporate users. When corporations start issuing tablets to employees instead of laptops, the gap will widen. I'm not sure when that will be and what needs to take place in terms of corporate IT, network considerations, equipment contracts and the like. But I do think the trend among SMBs is just the beginning.