Smartphones have overtaken laptops as the most popular device for getting online in the UK, Ofcom research revealed yesterday. Thirty-three percent of British internet users say their smartphone is the "most important device" for getting online, compared to 30 percent who say the same about their laptops. It's a big shift from the same data in 2013 that claimed 15 percent turned to their phone first and 46 percent thought their laptop was the most important device.
While the data is limited to UK consumers and based on a question of device importance, that's not stopped some from claiming "the post-PC world is here" or that this British survey is "the surest sign that we are in the post PC era." The post-PC era is a term that was made popular by Apple at its introduction of the iPad in 2010, and one that a lot of people took to mean the PC will eventually die and tablets and smartphones will take its place. The PC isn't exactly healthy right now, but it's also nowhere near death, no matter how many stories try to exaggerate its continued decline.
Do most people still browse the web from a traditional PC?
Ofcom's data is an interesting insight into one particular country, but to get a broader picture it's better to look for what people are actually using across the world, rather than what Brits claim is important. It's difficult to get a full accurate picture of web usage, but there are a few firms out there that provide a good general indication of the landscape. Nielsen claims consumers spend more time on the internet through their smartphones than their PCs during their "media time" each month, suggesting that daily time outside of work is understandably spent on mobile apps, games, and social networks.
Elsewhere, W3 counter and StatCounter both agree that around 70 percent of devices accessing the web, through browsers and not apps, in July 2013 were powered by Windows. Last month, both companies have Windows usage at around 50 percent, a 20 percent drop over two years. Like the Ofcom data, that's a big change in just two years, but it appears people are still using PCs to access the web itself more than smartphones in general. A big reason for that could be the millions of people who still use traditional PCs and laptops for work every day. You don't see office workers sitting there tapping into their 5-inch smartphone displays or 10-inch tablets. People use a mouse and keyboard for these tasks for a reason, in the same way you might switch to a laptop because booking a holiday on the web or doing your finances from your phone is an irritating experience. While there are many stories of businesses or schools transitioning over tablets, those are minimal compared to the amount sticking with PCs or laptops. iPads, if you believed the media hype, were supposed to replace laptops, but sales of the tablets are actually decreasing in this "post-PC era."
PCs in their traditional sense are dying off, but not because they don't matter. If you asked me if I thought my boiler was important I'd say no, but it's something I use all day. That's the same for my PC. It's not as obviously important as my mobile device, because I take my smartphone with me everywhere. However, if my PC stopped working I'd freak out as much as not having central heating or hot water. My smartphone is created for quick web queries, responding to messages or emails, or playing a mobile game when I'm bored, but for anything else during the day I switch over to my laptop to avoid the frustrating experience of the mobile web.
It's time to stop saying post-PC
2015 is the definition of an era where there are multiple choices for computing, where you can choose a device and your data will follow. It's also a year where mobile data networks and devices are fast and sufficient for browsing from a phone, and a time when PCs have matured enough that you don't need to replace the one you bought years ago if it's still working. As iOS 9 turns the iPad more into more of a PC, and Microsoft turns phones into PCs, the questions over which devices will be important in the future won't be around their traditional forms, but their function. PCs will continue to evolve, as will the versatility of devices that are shaping the mobility of computing. Perhaps it's time to kill off the idea of "post-PC" in favor of just personal computing. After all, smartphones, tablets, and laptops are all just PCs anyway.
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