Great piece by Benedict Evans, attempting (and I say succeeding) to define just what we should mean by “mobile”:
You can’t use the screen size or the keyboard to define ‘mobile’ as distinct from a ‘PC’.
It certainly isn’t the performance – at least, not for much longer. An iPhone 6S beats the Macbook on some benchmarks, an iPad Air beats Surfaces from prior years and it seems pretty likely that the iPad Pro will be close enough to a Surface for there not to be much point arguing about it.
The successful makers of minicomputers, such as DEC, were eventually unable to compete with the personal computer and mostly disappeared. The PC became not only as powerful but was able to do things minicomputers could not, for a universe of customers the minis could never encompass.
The mobile universe is upon us. What the PC did to the minicomputer is about to be done to the PC. Not that personal computers will disappear but they will increasingly be seen as adjuncts to the mobile world, used for mainly niche purposes.
Apple gets this. AIM gets this. Android gets this. But the dinosaurs of the PC era – Microsoft and Intel – are having a harder time. Their vision is to make desktop PC devices that look like mobile.
The future belongs to mobile devices. They will surpass and supplant the desktop.
The minicomputers sold to hundreds of thousands of corporations. Personal computers sold tens of millions. Mobile devices will sell billions.
Here are the key answers to what mobile is and why it is surpassing the personal computer:
Ease of use – IOS and Android are much easier to use than MacOS or Windows, with much less support needed by the individual PCs were great when a company could provide support. Now, everyone has to do it themselves. So ease of use is paramount.
Mobile has greater focus on security – a personal computer sitting on someone’s desk needed enough security to prevent an infected disk from being effective. Mobile requires robust security to deal with 1000 people in another country trying to hack your device, your partner’s device, your children’s devices, the devices of every child they know and so on.
Power consumption is paramount – with no connection to a electrical outlet, mobile requires hardware design focussed on conserving and micromanaging power usage to a degree never needed in personal computers.
Scale – economies of scale favor mobile as 10 times as many of them are being made for every personal computer.
Microsoft and Intel may have a very hard road ahead. Evans suggests that Microsoft’s drive to make a PC act more like a tablet is the wrong path. It mimics the failed attempts of DEC to make a minicomputer that acted like a PC.
Because mobile will not only surpass personal computers but will open up entirely new avenues for usage.
The successful path 40 years ago was to make a PC that acted as a PC. Within a shirt time, they were doing much more than a minicomputer ever could.
The path now is to make a mobile device that acts like a mobile device.
The Wintel ecosystem dominated in the personal computer era but iOS/Android and AIM will move past them in the era of mobile.
The launch of the iPod Pro may be the inflection point. Here we have an obvious mobile device that has the computing power of a desktop. The major complaints against it seem to be that it can’t act just like a real desktop PC.
What they see as a bug is, according to Ben Evans, is a feature. The future for innovation will not be in the PC world. It will be in the mobile.
Forty years ago, we were amazed to see a computer on our desks. Now we carry supercomputers in our pockets and wear them on our wrists.
Get prepared for much more as the world shifts.
Image: Patrick Hoesly