Macs and PCs Become Harder to Sell

December 13th, 2012

I saw a photo of the Pope using an iPad to type tweets. An article on what former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is doing in his spare time describes him typing emails on his iPad. Just recently, Macworld’s Jason Snell decided to write an entire 800-word column on an iPad instead of his regular Mac, and he did it all on his touch keyboard. No accessory keyboard for him.

Now Jason boasts that he’s a very fast typist, and thus can get words to paper about as fast as they emerge from his thoughts. But the things that slow the text entry process, such as using a virtual keyboard, an old fashioned typewriter,  or just taking pen to paper, give him more time to consider those words. So the end result is an article that is, in fact, more polished in first draft form. He becomes a better wordsmith.

He makes a good point, though I’m not at all certain I’m ready to dispense with the Matias Quiet Pro keyboard that I use with my Mac, and do all the work, or even a good part of it, on an iPad or, worse, an iPhone. And, yes, I do have a 1980s-style Smith Corona electronic typewriter in the storage shed, but I doubt that I can get ink for it anymore. Besides, maybe I’m too impatient to commit those words to the screen. Besides, I can fix the problems during editing process.

But I can see where many people are finding that they really don’t need a personal computer for most chores. Sure there’s the heavy lifting of content creation, such as editing audio and video, and other tasks that still cannot be done very well, or at all, on a tablet. That seems to validate the contention made by Steve Jobs a couple of years back that the PC is the truck designed for heavy lifting, and fewer and fewer people need one.

It certainly explains Microsoft’s desperate push to make the Surface tablet relevant. Already there are published reports that production and distribution will be increased in the hope that modest sales will become less modest.

At the same time, PC sales are falling, and PC tablets have made very little dent in the market. Apple still controls a huge portion of the tablet space, and the only possible downside is the fact that iPad mini production hasn’t quite caught up with demand, which may depress sales somewhat, as more and more customers decide the smaller iPad is just right for them. There’s speculation, in fact, that the iPad mini may earn the larger portion of sales over time, and that state of affairs might well be accelerated when Apple adds a Retina display. My belief is that it’ll happen with a product refresh in the first half of 2013.

Even though the PC market is depressed, it does appear that Apple is doing all right with Macs, though late delivery of the 2012 iMac isn’t helping. While the 21.5-inch version is available without too long a wait, the 27-inch model is just beginning to reach customers who placed orders at the end of November, and delivery for new orders has been moved off to January. So it’s not going to help this quarter’s sales all that much. But 80% of Macs sold these days are note-books anyway, so maybe it won’t be so bad.

The larger question, though, is whether more and more people will just hold on to their personal computers for longer periods, and not upgrade until the product can no longer run current operating systems or software. When they want a second device, it may well be a tablet.

In the Steinberg household, my wife has embraced the iPad with a passion. Barbara takes it with her around the house, and is regularly checking email, typing short messages, and searching and reading stuff online. She can handle my Mac grudgingly, but it’s not her cup of tea. She’s not alone. She’s following the post-PC market in a very practical way.

But this doesn’t mean that the traditional PC, Mac or Windows, is on the way out. Perhaps in the same fashion as the iPod, PCs will sell to an increasingly smaller audience. More and more customers, at home or at work, will choose a tablet or even a smartphone. That’s where the real innovation is happening, and it surely explains why Microsoft is desperate to boost Surface tablets sales.

If the Surface is ultimately seen as unsuccessful, and if Windows 8 fails to catch on in a big way, Microsoft will have to find a second act really soon. Otherwise, the market will likely pass them by. This is not the same as in the 90s, where Microsoft had the time to make Windows usable. Time isn’t on their side this time. While the enterprise and PC power users will continue to embrace Windows for a long time, surveys show a surprisingly amount of would-be buyers prefer an iPad or a Mac.

It’s the sort of thing that is no doubt giving Steve Ballmer nightmares, assuming he has a realistic grasp of the situation. And that may be the real problem.

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2 Responses to “Macs and PCs Become Harder to Sell”

  1. DaveD says:

    In his words…

    Those Apple’s dark days in 1996, Steve Jobs made these remarks.

    “If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it’s worth–and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago.”

    At the 2007 D5 conference with Bill Gates,

    Walt: Bill discusses all his secret plans. You don’t discuss any.

    Steve: I know, it’s not fair. But I think the question is a very simple one, which is how much of the really revolutionary things people are going to do in the next five years are done on the PCs or how much of it is really focused on the post-PC devices. And there’s a real temptation to focus it on the post-PC devices because it’s a clean slate and because they’re more focused devices and because, you know, they don’t have the legacy of these zillions of apps that have to run in zillions of markets.

    And so I think there’s going to be tremendous revolution, you know, in the experiences of the post-PC devices. Now, the question is how much to do in the PCs. And I think I’m sure Microsoft is–we’re working on some really cool stuff, but some of it has to be tempered a little bit because you do have, you know, these tens of millions, in our case, or hundreds of millions in Bill’s case, users that are familiar with something that, you know, they don’t want a car with six wheels. They like the car with four wheels. They don’t want to drive with a joystick. They like the steering wheel.

    And so, you know, you have to, as Bill was saying, in some cases, you have to augment what exists there and in some cases, you can replace things. But I think the radical rethinking of things is going to happen in a lot of these post-PC devices.


  2. AdamC says:

    MS had squandered a decade of innovation.

    The future belongs to mobile especially the tablets and a new generation of developers will learn to take advantage of the increasing power of the chips Apple are using in the iPads and these guys will be the new MS, Adobe and what have you.

    Touch is the future and you can touch it now with what Apple is ispearheading.

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