Consumer's Dump Desktops, Go For Notebooks and Mobile

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Consumer notebook shipments during the second quarter outpace desktops by 3 to 1.

This according to an IDC Report summarized HERE. which showed consumer notebooks up a stunning 63% over last year’s similar quarter while desktops contracted by 9%; commercial desktops and notebooks fell by 25%, driven down by the recession. Netbooks accounted for the lion’s share of the increase and also contributed mightily to driving notebook prices down, further accelerating the consumer shift to note/netbooks.

Some of our readers may remember the Shuttle “toasters” – these were small form factor PCs that caught many in the industry by surprise as consumers snapped them up. Shuttle was fortunate to either anticipate or serendipitously ride the down-sizing wave that seems to be gathering steam. Concurrently it appears that mobility is driving small form factor PCs as manifested in netbooks and the explosion of smartphones, with Apple’s iPhone leading the pack.

One major driver propelling smartphones has been Apple’s brilliant App Store, which basically turned the cellphone industry on its head by marketing a portable computer that also has a cellphone as part of it. In fact Apple has so changed the nature of this market that the FCC is casting a stern eye on the capricious nature of Apple’s iPhone App Store. The refusal to carry Google’s Voice app has roiled not only iPhone users but raises questions about who is acting as the App Store gatekeeper – ATT or Apple?

One would think that ATT, routinely dealing with regulators and the FCC, knows that any anti-competitive move on their part would not be dealt with kindly and there is some truth in their statements that this is Apple’s move, not ATT. Apple, used to Job’s eccentricities, probably figured it could do pretty much as it pleased, especially with the fanbois rarely expressing anything but reverence for Apple’s dictums.

Not so with the iPhone, which is less of an Apple acolyte product and more of a mobile computing appliance. Uncharacteristically for Apple, the iPhone is transcending acolyte status and is becoming more of a paradigm-shifting mobile appliance with acceptance beyond Apple’s traditional consumer profile. In fact it has so shifted into a mass-market appliance that Congress is wasting its time by looking into the handset tie-ins of the network vendors and delving into the supposed anti-competitive aspects of hardware to network tie-ins.

Further solidifying this paradigm shift is news that the game has shifted to apps. Microsoft is beating the drums about how its Mobile 6.5 is a better platform for the internet than Apple and is also telling developers how to modify iPhone apps to port over to Microsoft. What better way to energize its mobile product than to have thousands of apps available.

Verizon is jumping on the bandwagon with its Widget Bazaar, an app store devoted to its FIOS cable TV service. Apparently quickly sensing that it’s on to something that could become a significant market, Verizon is opening its Widget Bazaar to app developers. The strategy is to develop an app store that consumers can use to enhance their TV viewing by integrating, for example, Twitter as part of the viewing experience. Verizon is not offering “Web TV”, but is on a track to augment TV with selected apps, some of which might integrate social networks with TV viewing.

All of these trends seem to indicate that the computing experience is finally shifting to a more distributed model than perhaps many thought possible. Rather than the PC as the stand-alone powerhouse product, functionality is becoming distributed and implemented by a diverse range of computer appliances. Underlying the diffusion of computing power are two complementary trends – component miniaturization and centralization of computing power through network computing (the “cloud”).

While there will always be a market for high-horsepower PCs for cycle-intensive computing, such as for video and audio editing, the average consumer will have more power available at his/her fingertips with distributed computing and smart on-the-go appliances than might be possible with a desktop-centric model. It is not inconceivable that the desktop tower will become the exception rather than the rule and more the province of the PC tinkerer than the average PC user. Manufacturers on the wrong side of these trends will feel the heat fairly quickly – I think these trends are accelerating and are irreversible.

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