I’ve been reading a lot of fuss and blather lately about the so-called “post-PC” era, but I can’t say I really understood what the fuss was about until I spent about 45 minutes working my way through a Special Report in the latest issue of that wonderful new magazine called The Economist this weekend. It’s called “Personal Technology: Beyond the PC” and is currently available only to subscribers to the print edition (like many subscription-oriented magazines, The Economist makes its latest edition available first in print, and then posts the digital version once the latest magazine edition hits the newsstands). This particular item appears in the October 8th -14th (2011) edition, so the digital version should post some time on or after October 15.
The point they make in their well-researched and -written study is that it’s not a case so much of the PC being dead but rather, that the kinds of functions for which consumers use PCs (Web surfing, e-mail, social networking, and so forth) are mostly being performed on smartphones and tablets nowadays, which are equally capable at handling these non-compute-intensive tasks and activities. It’s also a matter of huge scale: even though half a billion PCs may sell per year, these numbers are dwarfed by the appetite for smart phones (with over a billion units sold yearly right now, and forecasts for two billion yearly in the near future) and may soon be matched or overtaken by tablets as well.
What all is means is that a new era of low cost computing that doesn’t require PCs is getting underway. And even though the costs to users are low, the extreme volume means that companies that cash in on this phenomenon (of which Apple is a nonpareil example, it now fluctuating between number 1 and number 2 in the world in terms of market capitalization with Exxon/Mobile) can realize amazing sums of money, and can thus also invest large amounts in the R&D necessary to keep innovating, developing new technology, and improving on existing hardware and software capabilities.
What it really comes down to is this: there’s a big new technology game to play, and like it or not, IT professionals are going to have to learn to play it. The combination of cheap, powerful enough, and untethered devices with cloud-based access and storage to provide them with software and data is going to change the face of the world as we know it today, and IT must change along with it. I have to believe this means that entirely new knowledge bases will have to be created, and then mastered, and that training and certification will follow suit. We already see flashcards and practice test apps aimed at iOS, Android, and so forth: soon, we’ll see the focus turn toward other technologies that make use of these platforms for important and substantial work tasks.
Guess what? It’s time to get on the post-PC bandwagon, and start learning as much about the underlying infrastructure, security, controls, and management capabilities as possible. Otherwise, you risk being overwhelmed or left behind as the tide comes up and rearranges the landscape as we know it today.