When Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the new iPad at a press event in San Francisco last month, he declared that we are now living in post-PC world. Mr. Cook justified his statement by saying that 76 per cent of Apple’s revenue in 2011 came from the sale of 176 million “post-PC” devices, including Apple TVs, iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches.
Many critics scoffed at the idea, citing a recent Gartner report which predicted PC sales would increase to 368 million units in 2012 and to nearly 400 million in 2013. With PC sales still growing, isn’t it a little ridiculous to suggest we are living in a post-PC world?
Looking back on the PC era
I bought my first PC in 1981. For the next 15 years, I purchased increasingly powerful computers which were used primarily for spreadsheets, word processing and gaming. In the 1990s, the information superhighway arrived, and for the first time it made sense to hook up a home computer to other computers.
While PC sales have continued to grow for over three decades, the PC era reached its zenith just prior to the introduction of the Nokia 9000 smartphone in 1996. The Nokia device was significant because, although it was not the first smartphone, it was the first commercially successful non-PC consumer device which could harness the power of the internet.
From 1996 to 2007, the smartphone was still a relative novelty, while the PC reigned supreme. During that period, PC users bought more computers and discovered the router, which enabled them to share their internet connection across multiple home computers. Early home networks typically consisted of an internet modem, a router, and two or more PCs. If you were really advanced, your network might also include a networked printer and wireless connectivity so you could extend file sharing and internet access to you laptop.
The evolution of the home network
While smartphones from Nokia, RIM, HP and Microsoft had been around for over a decade, the introduction of two Apple devices in 2007 marked the next big change in the PC era.
To comprehend how the PC era has changed so dramatically in the last five years, I will use my home network to demonstrate the evolution from PC to post-PC era.
In 2007, my home network consisted of a Wireless-G router which was connected using Ethernet cable to three computers and wirelessly to one laptop computer.
Today, I have thirty-four devices connected to my digital home network: four personal computers, one HTPC and one Windows Home Server, a network printer, a network attached storage device and at least twenty-six consumer electronic devices, including four smartphones of various manufacture, three iPads, three iPod Touches, one eBook reader, three video game consoles, one Sonos wireless audio bridge, one Apple TV, two WDTV live streaming media devices, two Blu-ray players, one HD DVD player, one Plasma television, one satellite television receiver, one Silicon Dust Home Run ATSC tuner, and two IP telephones.
Granted my household is atypical, but five years ago many people looked at me funny when I told them I had a home network! My home network still has four PCs, but the number of servers and non-PC devices has gone from zero to 30.
Sales of post-PC devices
While Gartner predicts sales of 368 million PCs this year, JP Morgan estimates that 657 million smartphones will be sold and IDC predicts tablet sales will top 106 million units this year. Smartphones and tablet sales alone in 2012 could total over 760 million units; more than double the number of PC’s sold this year.
These figures do not include other Internet-enabled devices which consumers are often using in place of PCs. Sales of Internet-enabled televisions which feature Netflix, YouTube and Pandora widgets should number over 100 million, while Internet-enabled video game console sales, which can replace PC gaming or online video viewing, should top 25 million units this year.
Welcome to the post-PC world
This year, over one billion internet-enabled devices will be sold globally with less than one third of those devices being laptop or desktop computers. While the absolute number of PCs sold continues to grow, PC sales as a percentage of overall internet-enabled device revenue is declining quite rapidly, justifying Mr. Cook’s belief that we have entered a post-PC world.
Hugh Thompson is the founder of Hugh Thompson’s Digital Home , a consumer electronics news and information website. As a voice for the Canadian consumer, Hugh is a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country discussing the latest in consumer electronics and the business of convergence in the Digital Home.