Sunday, 11 September 2011

Shifting Sands in the PC World

In a matter of just a few months we have seen the IT 'Client' market change dramatically. The definition of this is what we use on the desktop to compute with - desktop, laptop, notebook and now tablet.

We all knew that tablets are trending - Apple will likely manufacture and sell 20 million iPads this quarter alone and by 2014 it is reckoned that of the total 1.3 billion PCs on earth, over a quarter will be tablets. To reflect this, Gartner Group issued some appalling figures on the PC market for last quarter - of notebooks alone, there was a 53% drop in sales and PCs fell by 21%.

It is very clear that despite industry pundits trying to dismiss the Apple iPad and other tablets as just fancy gadgets with no business worth, the tablets are very quickly becoming productivity and relaxation tools. Finally, the world of computing is truly reflecting what mobile workers does - we work and relax while we travel.

The Apps are getting better. While I type this I am also keeping an eye on the Ireland v USA RWC game in the ITV Player window. I use Evernote to capture my research and notes for all meetings and projects in handy notebooks that synchronise over all devices immediately over The Cloud - at just £27 per year for the Premium version, it is one of the best productivity tools on the market. I use Pages to generate lose documents and blog articles on my iPad and then upload them into my blog as it is easier and quicker using things like WordPress or Blogpress. I can open and review large PowerPoint presentations in my iBooks App as PDFs. Realistically the only two things I don't do well are spreadsheets and presentation building where the world is dominated by Microsoft Office although I like the functionality of both Numbers and Keynote.

It's the cost that gets me. I have yet to pay over a few quid for any App - even the iWorks suite cost less than £20 in total on the iPad. It's revolutionising the way we work and buy Apps because at no time has any corporate restriction or IT manager defined what App I use. I just buy them.

The outcome of this is that I have changed my workhorse laptop from Lenovo PC to Apple MacBook Pro. From here there is no turning back. I have the iWorks suite installed for £14 each but Office Mac Home & Business for around £180 is simply the best suite from Microsoft for years. Apple is steadily getting back on executive desks and Steve Jobs' incredible journey of rescue has got Apple back into mainstream computing by the back door.

No one could have predicted all this in just a short period. Edifices have crumbled and the once mighty HP has not only surrendered early in the tablet market, it has capitulated in the entire PC market - a $43bn business to the company - as the death knell of the PC market sounds.

Channel players will be sanguine. As long as everyone needs clients, there will always be need for resellers and distributors. Right?

It's rapidly becoming unclear how that looks in reality. If Apps and the Cloud will be the main 'shop' by which everyone buys product - perhaps bespoke App Stores for corporations - then where does the channel get the incremental sales from? The infrastructure will change dramatically and more of the delivery of products may well change too.

App vendors like Google will be salivating as they are reckoned to be the winners in the tablet operating system market with Apple as No 2, the obvious follow on thought will be that Google Apps will become more prevalent as a result. With Google Android getting a huge share of the Smartphone operating system, this seems to be logical. For Apple, iCloud will lead the way for serving their applications and business needs.

I haven't mentioned Microsoft in all this. They have proved with Office for Mac that they can innovate again but their future in the tablet market operating system market is put at just 13% and this may be less if they cling onto the hope that tablet users want full versions of operating system and applications - and for the usual big money. 

Google Apps at $50/user/month and iWorks at perpetual licence costs of less £20 have defined the future of software. 

It will be very hard to predict what happens from here. But the channel needs to start thinking. The issue is 'clouded' by Cloud generally as traditional vendors try to stake out their roles. But Cloud is a great deal more than this. It's about how products will get to users and what they will pay also. And as client technology changes so dramatically and quickly, the future is arriving faster than we would all like.

So much of what is written about the Cloud tries to translate what we do today to a world of tomorrow. Vendors talk of 'transformation' of worlds of software from on-premise to Cloud and how resellers must do this and that. 

The reality is rapidly evolving that the new world will have little to do with the old world. Transforming existing software into the Cloud may be one option but there will be many more. In the last year or so, thanks to the tablet's explosive start, thousands of innovators are starting up and charging little amounts for cool software.

There is a strong argument that says that the winners of the world of tomorrow will be new vendors who will throw off the need to adhere to legacy, solve the issues of integrating into corporate directory structures and explode lower cost, clever office software to be used on any device, anywhere.

There is also a strong argument that says the new channel of distribution of software generally has yet to emerge. 

Many of the channel players today are standing around waiting for some light to emerge which they can follow to lead them to what the future holds. Many look to their vendors for the answers but some of these vendors have ploughed their own furrow without channel following the likes of Google and ahead of them. 

It's a pretty confused state. Or is it?

At Google and Apple, life isn't very confused at all. This is client technology and these companies have worked out exactly how they will make and deliver their products to all the users. Out of the box, my Apple MacBook Pro worked with my Microsoft Office 365 and absorbed all the iCalendar and directory structures without a hitch. I cut the umbilical chord to the PC world but for one application - my Sage accounts. That will be solved soon as I trial NetSuite.

Apple will launch iCloud next year and this will likely revolutionise how I do all those things for the future.

So if Apple will have around 38% of the tablet market and Google 40% and their shares of smartphones will around the same - and the total number of these devices used by consumers and corporate clients will be around half the number of PCs in the world today, what is the future for the PC as we know it? And what is the future for the world that PCs live in technically?

This is the issue facing channel players today. Sticking with the strategy of staid software and hardware companies may not be the brightest of ideas. Some of these mega-companies don't really want channel players for the future so a question channel players should all ask themselves is, 'Why should I help you sustain the past if you don't want me for the future?'

It's as well that software vendors think about that particular question. 

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