New data from JiWire suggests that the shift Steve Jobs predicted about consumers migrating their computing workload away from truck-like computers to nimble tablets is underway. The Wi-Fi provider reported new connections to its network from Macs and PCs were down while new iPad users jumped.

Man holding iPad

The venerable computer isn’t going to disappear anytime soon but its glory days as a computing workhorse are fading with the rise of more nimble smartphones and tablets. The future is tilting toward mobile devices, something underscored by new data from JiWire.

The Wi-Fi provider told us new Mac users on its U.S. network over the holidays were down 28.1 percent while new connections from PCs were down 12 percent. JiWire, which operates 315,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots including 35,000 in the U.S., said new users on the iPad increased by 33.8 percent after Christmas while new Android users were up 47.9 percent. While this is just one set of data points, it shows that the shift away from traditional computers is real and it’s affecting both Macs and PCs. The reality is people’s dependence on computers is waning as they find more utility and portability in smartphones and tablets.

This, if you’ve been following along, confirms a lot of what we’ve been writing about. People are increasingly embracing ever more powerful mobile devices, a trend that is shaking up the computer world. Gartner recently revised its PC forecast downward in light of rising tablet sales and predicted that 10 percent of PC sales would be displaced by tablets. And as mobile networks ramp up to 4G and Wi-Fi usage grows, it’s only fueling the interest in mobile devices. This is a major shift that is forcing all the big players to adjust.

The impact of this new mobile reality is on display everywhere including CES, the annual gadget fest that has largely become a showcase for tablets and smartphones. Microsoft is getting back into the smartphone game with Windows Phone 7 and showed at CES how its next Windows OS will work on ARM-designed chips, the favored processor of mobile devices. Intel is working hard to get its chips to run on tablets and smartphones though it’s still an uphill battle displacing ARM-designed chips. Meanwhile, HP, which bought Palm last year, is preparing a splashy event next month to show off a line of webOS tablets and smartphones.

These are all necessary steps, prompted in large part by Apple, which helped kick off this trend with the launch of the iPhone and more recently the iPad–both of which made mobile computing more user-friendly. Apple CEO Steve Jobs himself predicted that overall PC usage would decline when he compared computers to trucks and suggested that lightweight devices like the iPad would do most of the tasks people needed. Now, the companies that are learning to embrace this new reality, are the ones best positioned for the future. At some point, it means PC manufacturers are learning to accept that the switch to mobile devices may come at the cost of traditional computer sales. But as the market moves toward mobile, manufacturers can let someone else lure their PC customers away with a tablet or smartphone or they can build one themselves.

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  1. If you are using a computer not for work then mostly you are consuming information not producing information, therefore you don’t need a full-blown PC to do that anymore.

    With an IPad you get a great mobile device that meets 90%-95% of the needs of the normal computer user at home. Plus I can sit on the couch much more comfortably with it.

  2. Give me a device like the Motorola Atrix with a full blown OS (Windows 8 ;) and why would I need a traditional desktop or laptop? Just dock it and I’m good. I no longer have to worry about synchronizing multiple computers. . . everything is with me all the time. . . perfect!

    Also, I don’t think this “revolution” is due to Apple at all. Others have been trying this for some time but the problem was the CPU power of the mobile chips, they just didn’t have enough grunt to get the job done. Now they do and the natural evolution is taking place. . . personally I can’t wait to see what Windows 8 looks like for these devices.

    1. “Also, I don’t think this “revolution” is due to Apple at all.”

      This revolution is due to refractive eye surgery.

  3. Ever try to edit photos while using a pad with only a touchscreen? Even with a graphics tablet, it is not the best choice for getting the job done.

  4. This article will get wider circulation if you omit “for PCs (and Mac)s” from the title.

    1. Right! Notify all the religious right / evangelicals.

  5. Cupertino Guy Friday, January 7, 2011

    No doubt Steve is the undisputed LEADER of the entire tech industry these days. Look how ALL the tech companies have followed in his footsteps with MP3 players, smart phones, tablets, app stores, notebooks, etc. Yeah Apple didn’t invent them but they sure show everybody how to make them correctly with entire supporting ecosystem. Steve has turned his company into the largest tech company in the world, actually Apple is now the second largest company in the entire world (ExxonMobil is #1). And he sleeps with $55 billion in cash under his pillow every night and wakes up with no debts and a rapidly growing empire. It is good to be Steve (aka The Smartest Guy in the Room) these days for sure.
    With iPad 2 soon out of the gate and iPhone 5 killer smartphone looking to increase their lead over the copycat Android phones their can be no doubt the PC will be needed less and less while Apple devices rule the day. People that still embrace things like Windows and Flash are a dying breed and definitely not the sharpest tool in the shed if you knows what i mean.

  6. I love the iPad for some things but it’s no replacement for a laptop or PC. I can’t imaging trying to edit a formula in excel/numbers or editing my photos in CS5.

    That said, it’s the perfect beast for just about everything else!

  7. Prakash Narayan Friday, January 7, 2011

    Troy Wolverton wrote a similar story in the Mercury News on Monday: http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_16969017?IADID

  8. Ryan, it’s a great question . . . sort of . . . but as the commentators ahead of me have pointed out, it’s really not a question at all.

    Fact is, when we stopped using floppy disks, thereby eliminating the important part of the Mac vs. PC issue (compatibility), your platform of choice became about exactly that . . . choice.

    The only reason to switch from a “real” computer to a tablet is if it feels right, and for media consumption it sure does. The only reason to stay with a computer that is harder to carry and has a “more difficult” operating system is if it gets things done better than a tablet does.

    Apples. Oranges. No real question in the great question.

    The only “End of Days” we’re experiencing is that “having a computer [sic] ” no longer requires . . . a computer.

    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO
    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP Computer Support, Business Change Coaching and SEO Consulting/Search Engine Optimization Services

    1. Perfect response. Totally the point of this paradigm shift…

      When will we start defining computing by what you communicate to or get done, not by the hardware.

      Interesting how folks like Cisco, Apple and Nokia saw and marketed to this before it would be heard more resoundingly in tech media circles; guess you can say that we are last on the list in terms of realizing this.

    2. Thanks Jeff. I think the headline got away from us. But the idea you’re talking about is right. We’re getting more choice. And increasingly people are choosing smaller and lighter devices. There’s always going to be a need for computers. But their uses will be more narrowly defined over time for things like work and more intensive tasks. Thanks for the input.

      1. Tech writers referring to computers as if tablets are a in a separate class are my # 1 pet peeve. Numero Uno.
        Any device, any device, that performs computation to do it’s task is a computer. It’s computer. Tablets are pc and macs are pc’s too. PC stands for Personal Computer. It means it’s a computer that is not a server but something personal. Like an IPAD or a smartphone. ALL PC.

        Too many people who are supposed to be educated are stuck in this trench where they insist PC’s or computer have to be desktops and must have Windows inside. They are driving me crazy. I feel that I need to take an ad in the New York Times to define what a PC actually means so I can stop seeing ridiculous headlines about the end of PCs. PC’s are NEVER going away. Ever. Desktops might but not PCs.

  9. Andrei Timoshenko Friday, January 7, 2011

    Would be interesting to see statistics broken down by frequency and use time. My guess would be that “full” computing devices are used much rarer but for much longer unbroken stretches of time.

    1. Andrei: “Would be interesting to see statistics broken down by frequency and use time.”

      Agreed PLUS

      What would likely be the 2nd phase of such research would be to understand advertising views, online shopping, etc behaviour on mobile platforms versus traditional PC/MAC platforms.

      Like other commenters, I can’t imagine not having my PC for work (excel, word, coding, etc). However, I imagine there is a disparity between online shopping & advertising views between a “work” machine and a “consumer” machine.

      Might we see more customization of advertising depending upon the mobility of the platform? Should be fun

  10. Maybe, but I think it’s still years, even decades away from that happening.

    and lol @ #1 Apple/Steve Jobs fanboy “Cupertino Guy”. Apple fanboys are some of the most deluded of the bunch.

    1. Please don’t generalize to ALL Apple aficionados.

      Some of use both / either, but we prefer our Mac over the PC.

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