Reality check: Has the iPad turned PCs into trucks? It's looking that way...

Just two years since Apple [AAPL] co-founder, Steve Jobs declared that: "PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them," how close are we to the Post-PC future?

[ABOVE: Jobs also spoke a little on the company's Post PC philosophy during his public appearances.]

Things change

To begin, I'd just like to clarify what it was Jobs told D:All Things Digital in June 2010. He said:

I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks. But as people moved more towards urban centers, people started to get into cars. I think PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them. And this transformation is going to make some people uneasy… because the PC has taken us a long way. They were amazing. But it changes. Vested interests are going to change. And, I think we’ve embarked on that change.

"Is it the iPad? Who knows? Will it be next year or five years? … We like to talk about the post-PC era, but when it really starts to happen, it’s uncomfortable.”

Uncomfortable indeed.

Change hurts

The old incumbents (Dell, HP etc.) of the traditional PC space are feeling the pain of this transition. That's because the iPad market is expected to overtake notebook PCs by 2016 as consumers shift to using iPads, an NPD survey claimed this week. Tablets will be “the growth driver” for the mobile computer market over the next few years, the analysts said.

"Consumer preference for mobile computing devices is shifting from notebook to tablet PCs, particularly in mature markets," said Richard Shim, analyst at NPD. Mobile PC shipments (including tablets) will grow from 347 million in 2012 to over 809 million by 2017, we're told.

Notebook PC shipments are expected to increase from 208 million in 2012 to 393 million by 2017, but tablet shipments are expected to grow from 121 million to 416 million in the same period.

Yes, this means PC shipments continue to climb, but tablet sales are climbing much, much faster. That's a picture in which at some future point more people are likely to be using tablets than those using PCs. Not just this, but there's been a sea change in the number of PCs sold in comparison to the number of Macs. 

Return of the Mac

At one point (2004) there were around 55 PCs sold for every Mac. Apple's recognition of the value of mobile devices and its subsequent introduction of the MacBook range helped the firm fight back, buoyed by the success of the iPod. The differential between sales of the two platforms has now shrunk to around 17, the latest Asymco data shows

Add iPad and iPhone sales to that data (as Asymco has done) and that differential shrinks to two.

"Seen this way, Post-PC devices wiped out of leverage faster than it was originally built. They not only reversed the advantage but cancelled it altogether," writes Horace Dediu.

If you think about it, mobile device versatility is key to success.

An example of this? Well, I really don't recall seeing any survey claiming, as today's InSite Consulting data reveals, that 34 percent of smartphone owners use their devices while they're in the bathroom. Light, portable, flexible and with impressive battery life, iPad and iPhone, tablet and smartphone, keep you connected to you communication, media, entertainment and the thousands of individual needs served via the apps.

Consumer habits are certainly changing. Elias Veris, mobile expert at InSites Consulting said: “Users estimate that at least 5 per cent of the time they currently spend on computer and laptop will go to smartphones and tablets in the near future. I personally think it will be a lot more; at home the tablet will claim a lot more time, and on the road the smartphone will do the same."

With 61 per cent share of what's laughingly called "the tablet" market -- I say laughingly because that dominant share clearly characterizes this space as "the iPad market" -- Apple's product is ubiquitous. 

Death strike

That ubiquity prompted Frost and Sullivan analyst, Craig Cartier to observe:

"A useful tool to analyse the consumer tablet market can be the question -- "why not an iPad?" -- The iPad's market dominance along with Apple's brand strength mean that any consumer considering a tablet will default to the iPad, and will need a significant argument to be pulled away from this preference."

Price seems the only weak spot in Apple's offering, driving some to take a chance with the Amazon Fire. Despite disappointing customer satisfaction levels, the device has achieved a good foothold against iPad dominance though this will likely change should Apple introduce a 7-inch model later this year.

"Apple's strategy for a smaller, cheaper tablet would drastically reduce this price differential, make a harder argument for customers to deviate from Apple, and mean a tougher road ahead for players like Amazon and Google. Apple has dominated the early stages of the tablet market, and if this latest rumor is true we can expect that dominance to continue," the analyst said.

Canalys is unique in counting iPads as PCs for the sake of global sales charts. Since the iPad launched Apple has been in contention with HP for the top position in PC sales. HP retook the number on slot in May's figures, but only by 40,000 units. The analyst report that tablets (which I call iPads as most of them are and Canalys calls "Pads", which seems a happy compromise) accounted for 19 percent of all client PC shipments in Q1, up from 7 percent year-on-year.

In the US, tablets/pads/ipads accounted for 40 percent of all client PC shipments.

So the position right now is one in which iPad shipments are booming while other players play catch-up. Netbook sales have collapsed and Apple continues to make strong gains with its mobile Macs. The rate of adoption of iPads is climbing rapidly, tearing chunks out of traditional PC sectors. 

That's the environment Microsoft will enter with Windows 8. Hardware partners and independent developers want to see this release excite the market. "Positive reception to Windows 8, on all PC form factors, is critical," said Canalys, writing in May. Is the writing on the wall? Perhaps. Apple has already proved itself in the mobile space, Microsoft has not.

Returning to the original question: "Have PCs become trucks"? The answer seems to be not just yet, but habits are clearly changing, there's huge disruption to established models, and, as Steve Jobs said, "Vested interests are going to change." They already have. This leads me to believe that PCs will certainly become less popular as mobile devices become more capable. The BYOD craze in the enterprise world is just part of the proof of this. Things are certainly changing. PCs aren't trucks -- yet -- but things are going that way... This story is moving along.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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