Believe it, smartphones and tablets make people use PCs less

What a difference three years make. In April 2010 I asked "Will iPad cannibalize Mac sales?" and a month later PC sales. Fast-forward 12 months, NPD answered a definitive "No". I disagreed: "Call me cynical and skeptical, but I'm convinced that changing behavior will cause many smartphone buyers, and many more tablet adopters, to delay PC upgrades".

Today, NPD sees things a little differently, based on fresh survey data that puts context behind two years of declining PC sales -- that despite Windows 8's release little more than three months ago. The firm finds that 37 percent of US consumers now access content on smartphones or tablets they used to on PCs. Changing behavior like this affects computer sales, as consumers shift behavior and delay PC upgrades or don't buy ever.

NPD finds general Internet access and Facebook to be the primary activities replaced by cloud-connected devices. Twenty-seven percent of tablet owners use their PCs less for the Web, and 20 percent for Facebook. The number is 27 percent for both activities among smartphone users.

Not surprisingly, Internet and Facebook usage are higher on PCs (75 percent and 63 percent, respectively) than smartphones (61 percent and 55 percent, respectively) and tablets (53 percent and 39 percent, respectively).

Yesterday, IDC forecast dramatic increases in US consumers printing -- or at least wanting to -- from smartphones and tablets, which says much about changing computing habits, and how connected devices displace or replace traditional PC behavior.

"Total U.S. mobile pages are expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 12 percent during the 2012-16 forecast period", and "non-mobile pages will decline 5 percent", Angèle Boyd, IDC Group vice president, says. Looked at differently, the number of smartphone and tablet users who don't or don't want to print will decline from 50 percent to 25 percent from last year to 2015. Mmmm, that reads to me like 50 percent do print, or at least want to, from these devices.

Not Content, But Context

However, NPD's pro-PC stance is strong as ever. "Despite these shifts in behavior, computers will remain the fundamental content creation device in consumer’s tool box for many years to come", John Buffone, NPD's director of devices research, says. He draws a line many other analysts do between consumption (smartphones and tablets) and creation (PCs). I disagree.

These devices aren't about creation or consumption but context. NPD's metrics, like most analyst firms, are wrong. There is no post-PC era, but one of contextual cloud computing. Context defines content or creation, which will change as smartphone and tablet capabilities expand.

The cloud is all about context. Content follows users everywhere, independent of device. Your music is available anytime, anywhere, on anything. You watch a movie in one context, sitting in a man chair at the mall on a smartphone and resume on the big-screen TV at home. You shoot a photo on the phone, edit and post or Instagram. That is content creation, by the way, as is posting anything to Facebook.

Regarding content creation, often the definitions are all wrong. People create content every day on smartphones and tablets, just the context is different. For that matter, so is the content, with Facebook being easiest example. Profile posts, photos and pretty much anything else is content.

During Comic-Con last year, I replaced digital camera and camcorder with Galaxy Nexus smartphone. I shot and edited photos and videos on the phone and then posted them to Google+ and YouTube. How is that not content creation? I produce content on mobile devices every day. Don't you? At least weekly?

Does the smartphone or tablet replace PC for content creation, or even consumption? Not today for most people, but the devices displace PC activities and do things personal computers don't. So where five years ago most people primarily used PCs for content creation and consumption, now they do so with something else. How often must I state the obvious?

Photo Credit: Poprotskiy Alexey/Shutterstock

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