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Summary:

There’s a trend building, and it’s not good for the PC industry. It’s not tablet and smartphone growth — although that’s part of the trend — but virtualization on mobile devices. This allows remote PC access from a tablet, for example, and could hurt already slowing PC sales.

There’s a trend slowly building and it may not be good for the PC industry. I’m not speaking about tablet and smartphone growth — although that’s part of the trend — but virtualization on mobile devices. This solution allows remote PC access from a tablet, for example, and could hurt already slowing PC sales.

I wouldn’t call this a new phenomenon: There have been remote access solutions on mobile devices for several years. Think of Citrix’s GoToMyPC  or LogMeIn’s  Ignition. These and similar services allow you to use a mobile devices to interact with the desktop of a Windows PC at home, so you could work on a Word document from an Android tablet, for example.

But virtualization is maturing, as are the mobile chips that power smartphones and tablets. This week at CES, I played a graphic-intensive PC game with stunning visuals and fast action on an Android tablet. But the game itself was actually running on a Windows desktop. Using remote access software from Splashtop on the Asus Transformer Prime tablet, you couldn’t tell. See for yourself in the video demo I captured showing the zero-lag.

Connecting a tablet or phone to remotely use your own computer is just one part of the virtualization story. OnLive has a virtualization service that lets you connect a Windows machine in the cloud. That’s not your PC, but a “PC running on the web,” so to speak. I’ve done this myself with EC2 on Amazon’s Web Services and it only cost me a few dollars a month to run an instance of Windows on a PC I can use, but don’t own: Far cheaper than buying, maintaining and powering a physical computer.

Between this new cloud streaming of computer applications and improved remote access apps, there’s less incentive to buy a new computer. Instead, you can either get more mileage out of an old computer or “rent” one that’s available in the cloud. And either of these can now be accessed by a tablet or smartphone that’s far cheaper than a new computer.

I’m not suggesting the PC industry is dead, but it is bleeding: Sales have started stagnating, and last year smartphones outsold computers, a trend that’s likely to continue, if not accelerate.

In this light, it makes sense that Intel is trying to push some smartphone activities to its new Ultrabooks. As PCs go from physical to virtual over time, consumers will have less reason to buy Intel-powered laptops and desktops, provided they have the connectivity needed to remotely access a PC from a tablet or handset.

Image credit: OnLive

  1. > This solution allows remote PC access from a tablet

    The funny thing about this is that the tablet still needs a PC (given the context of this article) even if it is a “remote” PC! Hence, the PC doesn’t die off (even if its no longer a growth market). Further hence, the PC isn’t “dead”.

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    1. Exactly.
      I am completely confused as to how you can go from “access PC remotely” to “nail in the PC coffin”…
      You still need a PC.
      Whether it be your own, or in the cloud, that doesn’t matter to PC manufacturers. One (or both) of you are still buying PC hardware.

      The article title is a complete logic fail.

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      1. But if 10, 100 or a 1000 or more people are all sharing the same ‘PC in the cloud’ then that’s going to hurt PC sales dramatically!

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      2. Old PCs are already sold; the PC market doesn’t care about those computers. I think it’s pretty clear I’m talking about future sales; my apologies if that wasn’t clear.

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      3. @My 2 cents: Believe me, It would be Very difficult for even two users to access One cloud PC and run Skyrim. A 1:1 ratio of a PC running skyrim : Tablet playing Skyrim would be optimal. In short the PC is no where near dead. Instead, tablets are cooperative devices that work with the PC, instead of against it.

        Speaking of tablets, where’s my Hi-Res iPad?! A game designed to run on the iPad could be just as good as Skyrim. I hope it comes soon so I could jump back on the iPad train.

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    2. Yeah, the PC is far from dead.. acting more and more perhaps as a “home network server”.

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    3. Darryell Randle Friday, January 13, 2012

      Yeah, and remote access and virtualization are two different methods.

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    4. not only that but to do anything with these “post-pc” devices I need a PC–what do you need when you go to root or flash a custom ROM onto these devices? A PC. How about the simple task of a complete backup? Back to a PC we go. . .

      PCs will die when mobile devices are PCs.

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      1. You still need a license from MS to run PC software, but you don’t need a new PC if you’re sharing a vm-based server. So, the first thing that’s likely to happen is that individuals and IT departments will figure out that it’s much more convenient to let someone else purchase and repair the hardware.

        Once you’re in someone datacenter you start to get access to their data and services. You could imagine those resources interleaved among the mainline PC experience… if you’ve used parallels on the Mac, it blurs the line between what’s PC and what’s Mac. And, you can (selectively) expose your data to those services instead of exclusively holding it on your desktop. Clever people can figure out how to do backups for you… generally remove the drudgery at the same time as they offer new facilities (join your data with massive cloud databases, for example).

        Physical device connection is the big thing that works worse, but anyone that’s done this for a while can see that being able to plug your own stuff into a computer (or flash a new rom) is a burden at the same time as it’s a benefit. And, there are other ways to accomplish that.

        It’s totally interesting to see the resistance to this idea. I’m guessing, it’s mostly from people who like the current model and either have some investment in it or who just don’t like change.

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  2. Darryell Randle Friday, January 13, 2012

    This is the future, but for power users, content creators, scientist and IT professionals a powerful PC is still the requirement and the norm.

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    1. Yup, this is the future. I tend to be ahead of the curve in some of my activities, so I’m not saying that by end of year everyone will be remotely accessing their computers or cloud instances. But I think it’s a trend worth watching.

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  3. Quite a short-sited article. If the user needs a PC, they would take a PC. If they wanted just a tablet they would use a tablet. A tablet remoting to a PC is not a PC replacement – if it was then tablets running Windows 7 would have been very popular. In fact, Windows 8 essentially merges these two computing paradigms into one – making the whole hypothesis a moot point.

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  4. >”I’ve done this myself with EC2 on Amazon’s Web Services and it only cost me a few dollars a month”

    It’s $85/mth for a 24/7 small win instance, I wouldn’t call that “a few dollars”. $5 would buy you five 8-hour work days, that’s it.

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    1. ozmark, I understand your point, but with so many online activities readily available on a tablet or a smartphone, I don’t need to use a PC 8 hours a day. I may be an outlier here, but wanted to explain my perspective. Thx!

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  5. I find that this is VERY premature. As long as there are games made for the PC, there will be lots of volume in PC sales. Now, if we are talking about PC’s for the workplace…then we might be on to something. But you cannot escape the necessity of the PC for entertainment value. That and until Tablets/Mobile Devices get a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray player in them…PC’s aren’t going anywhere.

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  6. I wouldn’t call PC’s days numbered any time soon Kevin. High-performance notebooks are still thriving, and I don’t think Intel would be committed to Cedar Trail if they believed netbooks were a dead-end market either. Think Windows 8 on a Cedar Trail slate!

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  7. One thing is watching demo of remote PC access using a tablet versus actually using PC remotely. Have you tried to access using a tablet? It’s pathetic. It’s like climbing a hill for the Everest experience. Grow up, GigaOM!

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  8. With all this cloud and virtualization activity I wonder when people are going to realize how much control they are giving up on thier information and computing activities. Pretty soon you won’t even be able to use your computing device without somehow “connecting” to an internet source. I am already experiencing this with my android phone. You think you are downloading an app to your phone and all it is really is an interface to some damn Google service or others. So, if you don’t have connection ability the app is worthless.
    I still like my PC and the control I do have concerning the use of it. I don’t know that I want some @#$# engineer telling me what I can and can not do on a computing device.
    Please wait patiently for your game to load while we blast you with this stupid advertisement.

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  9. Jason Correia Friday, January 13, 2012

    tech sites will continue to call the death of the PC until there blue in the face either they want to be the ones to “break the story” or they hate MS

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    1. John Harrington, Jr. Tuesday, January 17, 2012

      I don’t think the death of the PC can happen until the apps being crafted become perfect versions of the computer programs they are emulating. In the case of OnLive, the fact that files cannot be stored locally (and must be opened, saved and shared on the OnLive cloud) makes document management for corporations impossible. I wrote a post about it here: http://bit.ly/AxZrRm

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  10. if the PC is dead then good luck with
    – develop apps, debugging apps, design system, etc.
    – draw an architecture design for a building, bridge, etc.
    – Design and develop these mobile devices from both HW and SW.
    In short, the world civilization is just dying away.

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