The trend of Desktop PC to Phone to tablet is very much related to the cost per CPU (now incredibly cheep for all purposes. This trend follows surprisingly close to the power tool industry in the last century. Once upon a time - you bought a power tool (such as a table saw) that had a motor - as a bolt on component. There were then bits of hardware - that would let one take that same motor - and power a jointer, a grinder, a wood lathe, a jig saw, and so on. Then we saw corded power tools - especially drills - for which there were a dozen add on tools - to where we are today - where every portable power tool has its own function - and its own battery. Things don't change much - just the industry in which the change is happening.
I agree with Brian. Just try writing a full page email on your smartphone. It is quite annoying. In this case I head straight for my desktop, as it is much more efficient (it has full keyboard, mouse, and large screen to fit the whole message). As Brian states, smartphones and tablets are great for consuming, but when it comes to creating, nothing beats the desktop.
The biggest problem that I see the PC industry is facing is that my 6 year old PC is still plenty capable for anything I need to use it for. Until recently, a 6 year old PC would be on the borderline of useless.
At last - someone gets the picture! Clearly until the advent of smart-phones and tablets, there was only the general purpose computer. Now the market is splitting. No problem - hopefully PC's will get better (thinner and lighter) and retain the functionality and interfaces that we content producers need.
I don't need a tablet - or smart phone for my needs, so will not get either. I also don't want a PC with a touch-screen. Silly Microsoft!
I think what we are seeing is a simple result of the fact that computing power is becoming every cheaper. A decade ago, it wasn't economic to build a computing device entirely devoted to reading books. Now it is. And they are very successful. Similarly with music players, telephones, hearing aids etc.
Until relatively recently computing power was so expensive it could only economically be put into large general-purpose devices that were intended to do many things and fulfil many purposes. It is now economic to build serious computing power into the most mundane of places and into devices which only have one purpose (or a very small number of related purposes).
The vast majority of these are what Brian calls "consumption" devices. The remaining large, expensive, general-purpose devices are used by content creators in the main.
I wonder whether we shall see a similar transition in that space too i.e. a transition to ever more powerful but increasingly specialised creation devices aimed at specific content e.g. music, text, code, literature etc.
If there was a real color e-ink reader on the market with optional back-light all the other tablets would be in a serious trouble.
The only other killer-app use cases other than e-books would involve travel when a tablet could be used either as a laptop replacement (for email, web browsing etc) or movie player / game console (think trans-pacific flights...). The problem is that world-wide Internet access maybe spotty and/or expensive, the business model for wide and successful e-movie distribution is still not really here ... Also an oversize phone like the one from Samsung may be just enough ...
In our house my wife may scan incoming emails using laptop or google something when watching TV, but when email requires a serious response she walks to the laptop ...
I predict the tablet will go down in history as a fad.
Everyone I know that has a tablet is doing everything possible to give it the look and feel of a laptop - from fancy covers that prop up the screen to external keyboards to make it easier to type. They could have saved a lot of money and trouble by just getting a laptop.
Seems there are a lot more creators out there than we thought...
So would I. My first preference would be the 20" screen on my Mac; my second would be my wife's iPad; my third would be my phone. However, the relative proportion of time spent using each is the exact opposite of my preference? Why's that? Because my phone is with me all the time; my wife's iPad is in our kitchen; and the Mac is in our conservatory, which is rather cold this time of year.
I've been talking about tablets as media consumption devices for a while, and emphasizing the different use cases involved. Different use cases involve different form factors. It's nice to see othes get the notion.
But drawing the line between consumers and creators misses part of the point.
Consumer electronics is the classic capital intensive business. The single biggest part of the cost of the device you buy will be an allocated share of the cost of the facilities that make it. The more of the device you make, the smaller the allocated share of overhead becomes, and the cheaper you can price it.
And consumer electronics follows a predictable path, from early, scarce, high priced and high margin item to commodity item with commodity pricing, where it largely doesn't matter whose name is on it and the purchase decision revolves around the price.
The PC market isn't dead or dying, but it's not growing. There are still hundreds of millions of desktops and laptops out there, and they aren't going away. The problem is that PCs have long since become commodities with commodity procing and razor thin margins, where the lowest cost producer wins.
Dell going private is just one more step in an ongoing process. IBM began the PC business, but finally bailed out and sold the PC operations to Lenovo when they couldn't make money at it. HP announced and then rescinded plans to exist the PC market, because they can't make money at it. Dell going private relieves them of the pressures of the public financial markets, but doesn't answer their biggest question: "How do we make money selling PCs?"
The problem with the creator vs consumer distinction from this viewpoint is "Is the creator market big enough to address profitably? Can we sell enough boxes at a high enough price and good enough margin to stay in business?" Seen that way, the answer may be "No."
Until the emergence of the smartphone and tablet, the conventional PC and laptop form factor had to fit the role of the universal computing devices. Right now, little CPUs are powerful enough to tackle to media consumption processing load. The tables and smart phones don't have anywhere near the the computing power required by video editors, photo editors, compilers and such.
The conventional PC, obviously, does have that capability and could probably benefit from a lighter weigh OS. A $1,000 machine can handle just about any personal workstation needs. Without so much OS overhead, the PC would be even more capable.
In a few years, however, the capabilities of smart phone and tablet processors will be getting powerful enough to start eating into the workstation applications. The form factor is, of course, all wrong. But it's really just the I/O form factor that's wrong.
Provided the system is capable, the only thing that would matter is the display, keyboard and other I/O peripherals. I would be that in a decade the typical phone will be so overpowered that it can be used for 90% of all computing needs and will take the role of universal computing device. It will wirelessly connect to whatever display and input devices the power users need.
The comments here so far seem to be on point, no doubt. But there is one more thing, which id power density and how hot all of the computational power in that tiny package will be. A tower box with multiple fans will probably last ten times as long, which might be why sales have slowed, since possibly those who want one have it already, and if they are not fad-following fools, they may even hang onto it for a few years.