The era of the PC is over -- IDC

The days of personal computers dominating the tech world are coming to an end, and within a year and a half, non-PC devices such as smartphones and tablets will outsell PCs. So says an IDC report, which concludes bluntly: "The PC-centric era is over."

An IDC report released today says that cloud-based services, mobile computing, and social networking "will mature and coalesce into a new mainstream platform for both the IT industry and the industries it serves," in 2011 and beyond.

The report says that at the core of this new mainstream platform will be mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. It concludes:

Mobile computing --- on a variety of devices and through a range of new applications --- will continue to explode in 2011, forming another critical plank in the new industry platform. IDC expects shipments of app-capable, non-PC mobile devices (smartphones, media tablets, etc.) will outnumber PC shipments within the next 18 months --- and there will be no looking back.

Who will be the winners and who the losers in the new non-PC era? Clearly, Microsoft has the most to lose. IDC warns:

While vendors with a PC heritage will scramble to secure their position in this rapidly expanding market, another battle will be taking place for dominance in the mobile apps market. The level of activity in this market will be staggering, with IDC expecting nearly 25 billion mobile apps to be downloaded in 2011, up from just over 10 billion in 2010. Over time, the still-emerging apps ecosystems promise to fundamentally restructure the channels for all digital content and services to consumers.

Given that Microsoft's success is built on PCs and Windows, and is struggling mightily to gain traction with Windows Phone 7, it's most at risk. Ultimately, Windows likely will no longer be the worlds' most dominant operating system. Eventually, it will be either iOS or Android.

The biggest winner will be Google. It's dominant in search, mapping, and similar services, and the growth of mobile devices means that more people will be using Google services. Android will likely become the most popular operating system. And its cloud-computing offerings will likely succeed as well.

Apple is in a better position than Microsoft because of the success of iOS, but not in as good a position as Google, because Apple simply isn't search or cloud computing to any extent.

At this point, it seems as if there's only one thing that can slow Google down in the new era --- potential privacy and anti-trust issues with governments around the world. Every day seems to bring another issue related to this for Google. It may be that it will need to focus as much of its energy on governments as on its tech competition.

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