Are the End Days Nearing for PCs (and Macs)?

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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Post and thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr user Rego Korosi

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