Are we in a post-PC era as the late Steve Jobs famously claimed? Not really, says IDC.
This ivory-tower debate resurfaced this week when market researcher Canalys said Apple had become the world's largest PC supplier in the fourth quarter with about 17 percent of the worldwide market.
So, how did reigning PC king Hewlett-Packard suddenly drop to a distant No. 2 with only 12.7 percent? The iPad, of course. Apple shipped more than 15 million of those in the quarter, dwarfing any other so-called "client PC" device.
"We're going through the biggest shift the PC industry has seen in 20 years," Steve Brazier, CEO of Canalys, told CNET earlier this week--referring to the rise of tablets.
And Brazier offered an interesting insight about Amazon. That online retailer of books and other stuff--and the antithesis of device companies like Hewlett-Packard or Dell--could become the next device giant in a few years.
Again because of tablets. Amazon shipped just shy of 5 million Kindle Fire tablets in a couple of months, said IDC.
A Citigroup analyst also weighed in after a meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook, who told Citigroup that "rapid innovation on the iOS platform (and mobile OS platforms in general) will significantly broaden the use case for tablets." Cook, of course, was No. 2 at Apple when Jobs proclaimed that the post-PC era had begun.
But Bob O'Donnell, program vice president, Clients and Displays at IDC, doesn't buy into the Post-PC premise.
Not so, Steve: "With all due respect to Mr. Jobs, we're not in the Post-PC era. We're in what I call the PC-plus era. People owning PCs plus other devices," he told CNET earlier in the week.
There are some things you just can't do on a tablet, said O'Donnell. "Physical keyboards are actually really important," he said.
And high-end applications that require a lot of compute horsepower are still very popular, he said.
"Tablets will occupy a unique place. PCs will occupy a unique place. But more and more with the ability to work together."
Rather, they're complementary: O'Donnell continued. "One example is Adobe and their touch apps. They are designed specifically for tablets. They're not meant to be a replacement for Adobe's desktop apps, they're meant to be complementary."
Those tablet apps are used to sketch out the basic idea, and then that's transferred to Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop for the heavy-duty editing, he said.
"You finish your work with a more powerful PC and a more precise device--which is a mouse. So, [Adobe] is an example of leveraging a device for what it's good for; then using it in conjunction with a PC."
And that workflow will go the other way, too, with tasks done on the PC and moved over to the tablet, he said. "I think we'll see a lot more of complementary applications across PCs and tablets."
Does any of this matter to consumers perfectly happy with just a laptop or those in need of nothing beyond, let's say, a smartphone and an iPad? Probably not.
But it does matter to companies--like Apple, HP, Amazon, Samsung, and Motorola--who design devices for consumers. And it does have an impact on the shape those devices ultimately take.