Steve Ballmer Is Right: The PC Market Is Getting Bigger

At The Wall Street Journal’s D8 conference in June, Apple CEO Steve Jobs compared the PC to a farm truck, saying that when America was an agrarian economy: “All cars were trucks because that’s what you needed on the farm. Now trucks are one in 25 to 30 vehicles sold.” Whether you think PCs will shrink or grow in importance seems to depend partly on semantics. During the same conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer countered: “I think people are going to be using PCs in greater and greater numbers for years to come. . . . The PC as we know it will continue to morph form factor. The real question is, what are you going to push.” 

Jobs may not view the iPad as a PC, but we do.

Our view is that the consumer PC market in the US is indeed getting bigger: Over the next five years, PC unit sales across all form factors will increase by 52%. In fact, desktops are the only type of PC whose numbers will be fewer in 2015 than they are today — and even desktops will benefit from innovation in gaming and 3D. We detail our findings in a new report, The US Consumer PC Market In 2015. Clients can read the full report on our Web site, but here are a few key takeaways:

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Office 2010 Will Continue To Succeed With Consumers

Many product strategists are, like me, old enough to remember software stores like Egghead. Those days are gone. Today, consumer packaged software represents a very limited market – the software aisle has shrunk, like the half-empty one at the Best Buy in Cambridge, MA (pictured).

 

Only a few packaged software categories still exist: Games. Utilities and security software. And Microsoft Office – which constitutes a category unto itself. Some 67% of US online consumers regularly use Office at home, according to Forrester’s Consumer Technographics PC And Gaming Online Survey, Q4 2009 (US). Office is the most ubiquitous – and therefore successful – consumer client program aside from Windows OS.

Office 2010, Microsoft’s latest release, will continue to succeed with consumers. On the shoulders of Office 2010 rests nothing less than the defense of packaged software in general. It’s also the most tangible example of Microsoft’s Software Plus Services approach to the cloud – a term that Microsoft seems to be de-emphasizing lately, but which captures the essence of the Office 2010 business goal:

To sell packaged client software and offer Web-based services to augment the experience.

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Is The iPad A PC Or A Smartphone?

Today's FT reports Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's take on this question:

"To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail," he said. “We have our hammer [with Windows],” while Apple had its own hammer with the iPhone operating system that it was expanding to support the iPad.

This is a supremely shrewd observation, but it misses one important fact: Microsoft has a rival to iPhone OS in the mobile device market too, and one which would be ideally suited to tablets. The right tools are Microsoft's true mobile-optimised platforms on which Microsoft's handhelds, phones, and Windows Phone 7 are built. See more information, including photos, of the proof of concept Microsoft tablet running Windows Embedded Compact here in Engadget's Computex coverage.

This is significant. Because Microsoft has failed many times in the past using full versions of Windows in tablet designs such as Ultra Mobile PCs, Windows for Pen Computing, Windows XP tablet edition and the rest. These past failures were due to a lack of convenience. Microsoft must avoid repeating history now. So, Steve Ballmer is wrong: Windows 7 is not the right hammer for tablets to compete with the iPad. Why?

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Windows 7 Tablets From Computex Don't Go Far Enough To Unseat iPad

As Apple announces it has sold more than 2 million iPads (no indication of US/global split), would-be competitors are unveiling their tablets at Computex in Taiwan. With so many products in the mix (and so few on the market), it can be hard for a product strategist to keep up with it all. So here’s Forrester’s quick guide to the tablets that are taking on Apple in the near future (note: this list doesn’t include devices that may have a tablet form factor but are primarily eBook readers, such as Acer’s planned 7” Android tablet. It also excludes tablets that are more rumor than reality. And I know just by putting together this list I will leave some off, and if that’s the case leave a comment and tell me which ones you think I should add. Okay, enough caveats!):

Tablet competitors to iPad: Archos, Asus, Dell, ExoPC, LG, MSI

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