Awaiting the iPad3 and Preparing for When PCs Are 'Just the Work Computer'

Next Wednesday Apple will reveal the iPad3 (and potentially a new Apple TV), with an improved display and Siri among other features. Mobile ad network InMobi released consumer survey data last week finding that 29% of respondents were intent on buying the new iPad, with half of those reporting they don't currently own a tablet. Many people (44% of those intending to buy one) also said they wouldn't consider another brand.

Whether or not these survey findings turn out to be accurate they reflect the momentum and mindshare of the Apple tablet, which has sold nearly 60 million units on a global basis. However, when the first iPad was introduced in Q1 2010 it was met with considerable skepticism and predictions of failure. It was seen as an "unnecessary" product, delivering a "watered-down" Internet experience; it was also "too expensive" and "wouldn't fit in your pocket." 

A year later Dell also predicted that the iPad wouldn't succeed in the enterprise. However in Q3 2011 Apple reported that 93% of the Fortune 500 were testing or deploying the iPad. By comparison Dell recently announced that it's exiting the consumer PC business. This juxtaposition is essentially a metaphor for state the PC industry as a whole. 

Increasingly, instead of buying a second computer or laptop, US (and non-US) households will choose tablets. While there's still growth in the enterprise PC market the consumer PC market is flat-to-declining. Many analysts expect Apple to sell 50-60 million iPads this year. When iPads are considered "PCs" (which they are not), Apple becomes the largest "PC" vendor surpassing HP.  

Mobile display advertising outperforms PC display according to considerable research from InsightExpress and Dynamic Logic. Beyond this, ads on the iPad and other tablets further outperform conventional mobile dislay advertising. Engagement with tablets is higher than PCs and consumers have shown a willingness to buy things through tablets in far greater numbers than they have on smartphones. There's also mounting evidence that people are spending more time with mobile devices and tablets than on the PC Internet and even with TV (in some geographies), according to recent data from Flurry and InMobi.

The totality of all this data leads to the inevitable conclusion that PCs will be outnumbered by smartphones and tablets within a year or two. PCs and the PC-Internet experience will merely be one form of Internet access and not the primary way people access the Internet (except at work). We truly are in a "post-PC" era. (That was a Steve Jobs marketing slogan that is becoming factually true.) Microsoft hopes to change the trend with the introduction of Windows 8 of course. But Windows 8 will also work on tablets. Moreover its consumer success, however, is far from certain. 

Publishers and advertisers that fail to recognize these trends and act on them in the near term will be at a significant disadvantage. (Flash should be abandoned right now, for example.) Indeed, publishers and advertisers should shift the bulk of their attention and development resources away from the "PC Internet" and toward smartphones and tablet-optimized sites. Mobile and tablet site design should guide PC website design (as recently happened with the redesign of Kayak.) This is especially true for certain categories such as retail and travel.

The notion that mobile is just an extension of the PC-centric Web, which still prevails in many companies, is completely misguided.