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BLOG: Is the PC the next BlackBerry?

Fredric Paul | Oct. 14, 2013
Drawing similarities between two clearly declining staples of consumer and enterprise technology.

Don't get me wrong. I still love my PCs (like most of the people reading this, I have several). But as I ruminate on the latest PC market numbers from IDC released this week, I'm starting to believe that my reliance on "real" computers with "real" operating systems, "real" keyboards and full-size screens is slowly turning me into that guy in the cheap suit eating the cold breakfast at the Extended Stay America, banging away on his antiquated BlackBerry.

PC market still falling
IDC's latest report on the PC market wasn't as bad as originally projected, but still pretty dismal. Sales dropped 7.6% in the third quarter, versus an expected fall of 9.5%. Woo-hoo! The biggest reason for the (ahem) improvement appeared to be companies finally replacing their Windows XP machines as Microsoft prepares to end support for the ancient but still widespread operating system. Now that's a formula for long-term growth!

So the writing remains clearly visible on the wall: PCs are a declining business, with their use cases continually shrinking as smartphones and tablets eat away at the things that everyone used to need computers to accomplish. Enterprises still need computers, it seems, to do business-y things, but consumers, not so much.

That, my friends, is exactly the situation BlackBerry found itself in not so long ago. And we all know how that's turning out...

Just Like BlackBerry
Even as Apple's iPhone and then later Google's Android became the cool kids on the block, stealing all the attention and innovation, BlackBerry soldiered on, secure in the knowledge that it was the "serious" smartphone. Busy professionals hooked on email and paranoid IT departments obsessed with security and manageability would never abandon the platform for some sexy newcomer that seemed more about apps and entertainment than getting work done, it seemed.

Sure, as the onslaught became unavoidable, BlackBerry tried to ramp up its own bells and whistles, but had zero chance of competing on that basis. Meanwhile, of course, the new competitors added more and more business-oriented features and functions - slowly convincing even diehard BlackBerry fans that maybe they didn't really need that physical keyboard after all. In the end, there wasn't enough left to sustain a viable business.

PCs needed for fewer and fewer things
Sound familiar? The PC is facing the exact same progression right now. While there are still plenty of important things that are much easier and faster to do on a PC, that list is shrinking every day. Increasingly, even the slickest laptops look like teetering dinosaurs compared to their more nimble alternatives. I don't think the PC is going away - I sure hope not, anyway - but it's hard to see how its niche will do anything but keep shrinking.


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