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Will Tablets Replace PCs?

The iPad and forthcoming tablets from Android (and perhaps WebOS) are likely to displace PCs, at least in the developing world where the installed base of either is currently very low. The first country to watch is China, while India and much of Southeast Asia won’t be far behind. Since Android is open source, it will probably become the largest platform, but iOS devices are likely to take the prestige/luxury niche.

James Allworth discusses much the same idea on his blog post “The Fall of Wintel and the Rise of Armdroid.” Reporting on the Consumer Electronics Show, he writes,

The iPad and its many clones were not really the main story of the show. The main story — which almost nobody covered — was that this year’s CES marks the beginning of the end for Microsoft and Intel.

This transition has been a long time coming in the PC industry. Ironically enough, both of these two big players have seen the writing on the wall for almost a decade. But as is so often the case, incumbents find it immensely hard to disrupt themselves.

Allworth predicts tablets will undermine the sale of PCs to the point of extinction, and points out major milestones that have already occurred on that path:

At CES, for the first time, almost all of Microsoft’s OEM partners abandoned Microsoft exclusivity; and Microsoft’s next-generation operating system has abandoned Intel exclusively for the first time. There’s no reason to believe that either of the two companies are going to be able to turn this around. On one hand, ARM processors are perfect for powering these handheld devices. Manufacturers can customize to their heart’s content. And Android is on track to dominate the operating system space (though maybe not profitably). Both ARM and Android — Armdroid — are providing everything that tablet manufacturers need, and doing it more effectively and at a lower cost than Microsoft and Intel are able to.

We will be able to look back and say that this was the CES that saw Wintel fall and Armdroid rise up.

This outcome seems likely, though I don’t imagine PCs and laptops will disappear from offices and homes in developed countries for quite some time. However, in the developing world, this will become another case of technological leapfrogging–just as China jumped over landline phones directly to mobile phones, I think they’ll jump over PCs to arrive at tablets. The same for India and other countries in their rapid-growth phases.

As a participant in the LibreOffice project, then, I cannot sufficiently emphasize the importance of developing ODF editors for these upcoming platforms!

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