Mobile virtualization: Another nail in the PC coffin

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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

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