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Post-PC Era? The PC Is Alive & Kicking

The introduction of the iPad2 and the rise of tablet PCs have prompted once again the proclamation that we are now in the Post-PC Era. It seems we have been living in a Post-PC Era for about the last 15 years. Every time there is an innovation in consumer electronics it is hailed as a major shift that will disrupt the PC market.

First it was PDAs such as the Palm Pilot. Then cellphones and the subsequent smartphones resulted in people sounding the death knell. Today it is the iPad2 and tablet PCs. If this is in fact the Post-PC Era, why did {complink 379|Apple Inc.} introduce a high-end MacBook notebook featuring the Thunderbolt from {complink 2657|Intel Corp.} last week? This was announced just before the iPad2 launch.

I will contend a more correct characterization is the “PC Enhancement Era.” All of these devices have flourished and provided a larger total available market (TAM) for the semiconductor industry. But the PC market continues to grow and is a huge market for semiconductors. In 1996 the total PC market of desktops and notebooks was 78 million units. By 2010, the PC market had grown to 328 million units, including netbooks. This year, that number is expected to reach 368 million units. This is happening even with tablet PCs growing to between 30 million and 40 million units in 2011.

All these electronic devices work with a PC and enhance each other’s capabilities. Until there is a major change to the tablet PC's platform you need a PC to work with it.

I am a numbers guy. I do look at the various market forces and trends, but ultimately the proof is in the numbers. The Semiconductor Industry Association/World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (SIA/WSTS) bluebook has been issued for January 2011. This is an industry publication that tracks sales and shipments of semiconductors worldwide in specific product categories. The SIA/WSTS report provides raw data, but combined with knowledge of end-use markets and close discussions with key companies one is able to develop details for various markets.

The January sales and shipment numbers for microprocessors was simply astounding. Assuming the figures are not revised significantly at some point, first-quarter 2011 MPU shipments are trending to a record level. The historical trend for a typical year is for February to be slightly higher than January; March can be 50 percent — or more — higher than February. Assuming more modest relative growth during the first quarter, the MPU unit shipments are headed for 13 percent sequential growth. This almost never happens. First-quarter shipments usually drop off from the fourth quarter of the prior year.

The computing market represents about 80 percent of the MPU units in the SIA/WSTS reported data. This includes servers and workstations along with desktops, notebooks, and netbooks. However, the PC segment accounts for the bulk of the shipments.

Could this MPU growth be driven by the growth of tablet PCs alone? We need to understand what is behind the numbers in the SIA/WSTS data. It is not as straightforward as you might think. The MPU category includes standard MPUs from Intel and {complink 103|Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD)}, including Atom. It also includes various MPU families from {complink 2134|Freescale Semiconductor Inc.}, including the i.MX (ARM-based) line.

There are other MPUs in small numbers from various chip vendors for non-computing applications. The system-on-chip (SoC) devices, among them {complink 4505|Qualcomm Inc.} Snapdragon, and {complink 3926|Nvidia Corp.} Tegra, are tracked in MOS Special Purpose Logic. Apple’s A4 and A5 MPUs in the iPad, iPad2, and iPhone are internally developed and manufactured specifically for Apple. Therefore, the Apple MPUs are not considered merchant market and are not counted anywhere in the SIA/WSTS reported data.

Undoubtedly, the tablet PC sector is a high-growth market. It is becoming more competitive, as we have seen lately with the {complink 12925|Motorola Mobility Inc.} Xoom grabbing a great deal of attention as it goes up against the Apple iPad2. But the MPU category does not track this. If Intel gains a foothold in tablet PCs with Atom, then it will start to influence the MPU category.

As it stands today, the numbers do not bear out the claim for a Post-PC Era. Rather, what I see is an era of devices that offer more capabilities and connectivity that enhances the PC. This is an era of more innovation but also continuing evolution of what we think of as computing. What we think of separately as tablet PCs and “traditional” PCs may merge quickly. There are several hybrid designs on the market today, and so the idea of a Post-PC Era may become moot. We may instead have a Post-Modern Computing Era. Whatever you want to call it, the semiconductor industry will be selling chips.

16 comments on “Post-PC Era? The PC Is Alive & Kicking

  1. eemom
    March 14, 2011

    I don't see the PC going anywhere.  If anything it will continue to add functionality while reducing the form factor and cost to consumers.  The PC will continue to be the central device from which all other devices operate.  I really don't see the tablets take over the PC market in the distant future.  What we MIGHT see (over the next 5 years or so) is a convergence of the two technologies.  For now, I own a tablet and a PC and I can tell you that I utilize my PC 100 times more than the tablet.

     

     

  2. AnalyzeThis
    March 14, 2011

    Good article, Tony, and I very much agree with you.

    It is silly to declare that the PC is dead or in the process of dying.

    In addition to the points you mention about these devices being used to enhance PC use or the form factors just changing (is a cell phone that plugs into a docking station so you can hook a monitor/keyboard up to it a smartphone or a PC?), the other thing to consider that while tablets and smartphones are all the rage in the US, in the rest of the world the situation is different.

    In developing countries, the traditional PC in many ways probably makes the most sense as a form factor: they can be easily shared and used by a variety of people in Internet Cafes or what have you. Portability is less important as many of these people have no need for constant connectivity. And obviously from a value standpoint, a traditional PC will almost certainly have a longer service life than something like a tablet.

    So yes, things are changing… but the PC isn't dying, it's not even sick yet!

  3. Taimoor Zubar
    March 14, 2011

    While a lot of people consider PCs, tablets and smartphones to be in intense competition, I believe that there is very little competition amongst them. Overall, the use of computing devices is on the rise and the increase will be reflected in all three markets. PC's are important in a number of areas where it's practically not possible to replace them. I also believe they will continue to evolve and stay strong in their market.

  4. Ariella
    March 14, 2011

    Even some of the fans of the tablet, mobile decvices, smart phones, etc., point out that it does not substitute for their full computers.  They just find it to be convenient for specific tasks.Personally, I do everything on my PC.

  5. elctrnx_lyf
    March 14, 2011

    I think tablets willl take place of the desktops in home but still not all the users would prefer to use feature limited and less power tablets. PC is ubiquitous where you can do lot of stuff inlcuding games movies n work. Tablets are for entertainment and mainly used for browsing not for anything else.

  6. Nemos
    March 14, 2011

    Me too 🙂 …. Pc is the father of all new devices such as smart phones,net books, etc

    Pc is very powerful and it has a lot of years to “live” until we invent his substitute.

  7. jbond
    March 14, 2011

    The so called “competition” is good for business, especially for the companies with the hot new item. While tablets and smart phones are great tools, they are still just supplements to go with the main tool, the PC.

  8. SunitaT
    March 15, 2011

    Tony,

     I belive PC and iPad/Smartphone are two different categories. Other than the fact that both of them are computing devices nothing similar between them. iPad/Smartphone are not computational intensive, whereas PCs are. Those who want just browse the net or communicate will opt for iPad. Those who want use process intenstive applications will opt for PC. Moreover the pricess of iPad is 2X the PC price. So I am sure PC is still the favourite among many of the end users.

  9. Adeniji Kayode
    March 15, 2011

    I agree with all the comments made on this article. PC is alive and KIcking and it will do this for a long time.

    In the developing countries where ipad/Smartphone are yet to gain indentity, Pc is what they know and probably they still have so much years to stay wih PC befor they start to see the Ipads and Tablets. So as far as those countries are concerned,there is no competition yet against PC.

    Moreso, the need to be online often is not an option yet for most people in such countries.As a result of this ,PC is still doing a good job as far as they are concerned.

    The fact that heavy computation can not be done on Ipad and smartphone  is another edge for  PC to still continue to kick for many years to come.

     

  10. Barbara Jorgensen
    March 15, 2011

    I also agree–the PC is far from extinct. It may have a lifespan, as does any technology, but as you point out, the fundamentals of the PC are intact. Smartphones will always have the disadvantage of screen size, and I'm actually wondering about the physical longevity of a tablet. They are still too new to really know.

  11. Ariella
    March 15, 2011

    To play up that type of terminology, I think it likely that PCs will evolve somewhat,perhaps taking some cues from tablets.  But they would still be PCs.

  12. Adeniji Kayode
    March 17, 2011

    I agree with you Ariella, I see PC going through an evolution to keep being relevant in years to come

  13. saranyatil
    March 19, 2011

    PC will always be evergreen. How long can we work on our laptops, smart [hone, Tablets we will get frustrated if its been used more than what it should be. we cannot connect our playstations to Tablets, there is so much comfort in using the PC. with lot of new ideas put into the upgrades of PC is enarmous and its definitely attracting all its PC lovers. though i have Smart phones, LED tv and everythin would love to work on my PC.

  14. seel225
    March 19, 2011

    PCs will be ever lasting. Even though laptops are much flexible to carry, but most of us like to work with PCs. As the size of the screen matters while working, it will much useful and flexible working on the PCs. Even though we have laptops, notebooks and other smart devices still we see PCs in most places.This shows the presence of PCs is still alive.

  15. Ashu001
    March 21, 2011

    Tony,

    A Very good and realistic post of the current market dynamics at play here.

    The Situation today is quite fascinating if you look at the entire PC space.The developments/evolution is never ending and really-really amazing here .

    While the space is never quite/still the developments as they happen and when they happen tend to incremental and evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

    That's the fun part of the game that most media big-wigs can't (&won't) ever figure out.

    Regards

    Ashish.

     

  16. Anna Young
    March 30, 2011

    I certainly agree with you. We are yet to see how well tablets wiil perform.

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