Austin American-Statesman Plugged In column
Mar 02, 2013 (Austin American-Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A hefty portion of the tech world was in Barcelona last week for the Mobile World Congress trade show. Attendees probably were drinking any number of Catalan regional wines -- maybe a tarragona or a priorato -- and eating tapas or some such.
I wasn't there, so all I had to chew over were the latest data from International Data Corp. on "smart connected devices," which is the super category that market research firm created by smushing together global personal computer shipments with smartphones and media tablets.
IDC had lots of numbers that tell a pretty clear story. It might not have been tapas, but still it was worth biting into.
The super category was expanding rapidly with 1.2 billion devices shipped globally during 2012, up 29.1 percent from a year ago.
As you might expect, smartphones and tablets showed plenty of growth for the year, expanding 46.1 percent and 78.4 percent respectively. But not PCs. Portable personal computers declined by 3.4 percent and desktops dropped 4.1 percent.
That doesn't mean the PC is dead. Far from it. It just means that most of the attention and much of the investment in "endpoint" technology has shifted to smartphones and tablets.
The biggest device makers in the super-category were South Korea's Samsung Electronics, with 250 million units shipped, followed by Apple, 218.7 million; China's Lenovo Group, 78.3 million; Hewlett-Packard, 58.2 million, and Dell Inc., 38.8 million.
Lenovo, which makes both PCs and smartphones, showed solid growth, but HP and Dell were fading fast. Dell's unit shipments for the year were down nearly 13 percent for the year and the company did not rank among the top five in the fourth quarter. It was replaced by Sony Corp., which makes both PCs and phones.
Analyst Roger Kay with Endpoint Technologies Associates points out that the mobile revolution has been growing since 2007 when Apple launched the first iPhone.
Kay, who also skipped Barcelona last week, says the smartphone has taken over because it is so personal and so mobile. The analyst says he even takes his phone to the gym with him, where he can play music. The phone lets him respond to emails on the go. And at home it can even command the television set or the remote security system or the thermostat.
The average consumer in this country will continue to use the PC at home and at work, but not as much as before. The PC won't go away, but it won't grow as much. Consumers and businesses will stretch out their replacement cycles for PCs because they don't rely on them as much as they once did.
Endpoint technology leadership these days falls to companies that have developed the software for mobile ecosystems. Those kingpins include Apple; Google (which develops the software used on most smart phones that are not made by Apple); and Amazon, which makes mobile hardware and sells a bunch of stuff over PCs and smart phones. And maybe you can add Microsoft Corp. to that group. Microsoft dominates PC software, but it also understands cloud computing and it has made a belated entry into tablets and smart phones.
"Microsoft has a model for this even if they haven't put all their before behind mobile devices," Kay said. "They have a foot in both worlds."
Among PC makers, Lenovo seems to be adjusting. They are gaining ground both in low-cost laptop PCs, but also are selling smart phones successfully in China, which is an enormous market. "They clearly see the need to move beyond the PC," Kay said.
That leaves HP and Dell, which are big sellers of PCs, but haven't found the winning formula for mobile products yet.
Dell largely dropped out of the tablet market in 2011 and then jumped back in last fall with the release of mobile-friendly software from Microsoft. Dell has signaled that it will try to reach into vertical mobile markets. It launched highly secure "business ready" tablet last week aimed at the health care industry.
"The companies that have made the pivot to high mobility adroitly have done well," Kay said. "The more dependent you are on the PC ecosystem, the deeper your woe."
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