How the war between tablets and PCs will unfold

Apple, ARM, Intel, Microsoft, and Qualcomm are jockeying to win in the emerging new world order, but not all will prevail

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"Businesses of all sizes appear to be determined to capitalize on the tablet phenomenon," says Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD. "The iPad, just as it is in the consumer market, is synonymous for 'tablet' in the business market, leaving Apple poised to take advantage of the increased spending intentions of these [small businesses]. NPD's research shows that iPad purchase preference is higher among larger firms than smaller ones, which is an important indicator that Apple is gaining traction far outside its typical consumer space."

So is the PC getting the boot from the critical small-business arena? "While the market speculation spins about the decline in the PC market, it remains apparent that someone forgot to tell the customers," Baker writes in a blog post. "Spending continues on PCs and on tablets -- and few companies, even the smallest ones, are significantly reallocating their spending away from the personal computing needs of their employees."

Intel vs. Qualcomm: An uneven match
Another exaggerated story line is the threat that ARM chips pose to Intel in the laptop market. Sure, Qualcomm will unveil something like a PC next week, but what anyone will be able to use it for is hardly clear.

"I'm quite skeptical," says Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. The software infrastructure is dominated by the classic x86 architecture of Intel and AMD. In particular, Windows 8 on ARM will not support binary translation (meaning the ability to run the standard Win32s x86 apps natively), so any apps written to run on ARM will have to be rewritten from the ground up. (Apps written for Window 8's Metro UI will run on both ARM and x86 devices.)

Here too there is some nuance. McCarron notes that the rise of the app stores will make it easier for developers to write and sell Metro-specific apps that could get some traction with the public. And plans on the drawing board for new chips by Qualcomm and Nvidia, expected to debut around 2015, could change the game by powering more than just tablets, increasing the incentive for developers to support Metro, he says.

Intel, meanwhile, is making significant progress in developing low-power chips for mobile devices. While it clearly has a ways to go before it challenges Qualcomm, "we will ultimately see convergence in power consumption" between Intel's x86 chips and Qualcomm's and others' ARM chips, says McCarron.

What's more, Intel is putting significant muscle behind Ultrabooks, which is essentially a thin and light laptop that sports extended battery life and rapid boot capabilities. In part, that's a response to Apple's success with the MacBook Air, but it's also an attempt to make PCs seem as cool as tablets.

The bottom line: We'll see lots of skirmishing, posturing, and positioning this year. A new computing model is arising, but don't believe the pundits who tell you the old one is dead.

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here (Add a comment) so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net. Follow me on Twitter at BSnyderSF.

This article, "How the war between tablets and PCs will unfold," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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