The PC is dying; long live personal computing!

Windows PCs' market share is plummeting -- mainly due to the changing definition of a PC and the rise of the post-PC vision

As someone who's been prognosticating the post-PC future for some time, I was pleased to see market researcher Canalys's projections that Windows PC sales will account for just 65 percent of the global PC sales in 2013 -- and will continue to decline. Most of the rest will be iPads and some Android models, with a few percent of Macs in the mix. In fact, according to NPD DisplaySearch, another market researcher, tablets will outsell laptops for the first time ever; overall, PCs will still outsell tablets thanks to desktop models.

At first blush, Canalys's 65 percent figure seems like a shocking drop from the 90 percent or so typically ascribed to Windows PCs. But the actual dip in unit sales predicted for 2013 was 5 percent, after a 7 percent decline in 2012, as buyers realize the action they want is not in Windows 8. Mac sales were flat in 2012; both IDC and Gartner showed a similar Windows sales decline in 2012, though not quite as extreme.

[ InfoWorld's Galen Gruman outlines how Apple, Google, and Microsoft are planning their post-PC futures. | Keep up on the latest networking news with our Technology: Networking newsletter. ]

What the numbers from both Canalys and NPD really show is that the definition of a PC has changed to now include tablets. That's the post-PC world mobile pioneers foresaw upon the iPad's release in 2010. IDC and Gartner haven't yet adjusted to the new reality (quaintly, Gartner still refers to "media tablets" as if they were Kindle e-readers), but they will.

Many pundits have argued over whether the iPad (and now all tablets) will replace PCs or supplement them, with most analysts proclaiming that tablets would not replace PCs. The truth is that they are supplementing and replacing PCs. Early adopters like my colleague Benjamin Robbins, who video-blogs for the Guardian, have been relying mainly on his Samsung Galaxy Note "phablet" for a year and are doing just fine.

I'm not as extreme as the mobile-only Robbins, but I've relied solely on an iPad when traveling for nearly two years now, and I rarely miss my MacBook Pro on my trips. My home and work MacBook Pros might as well be iMacs or Mac Minis, and at home my next Mac will be a desktop unit; my partner has already replaced his old MacBook with an iMac, since he uses only the iPad on the road. (I wish I could convince the IT folks at my office to make the same leap.) With its recent Android "Jelly Bean" update, a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet could take on the same role as an iPad, now that its browser works so well.

A computer still boasts many capabilities a tablet doesn't. I've been using a 27-inch display for a couple years, and I really miss the ability to switch among windows and apps when I have only my iPad. And some tasks aren't yet possible on a tablet, such as running layout programs like Adobe InDesign, managing the books in software like Intuit's QuickBooks Pro, developing and maintaining databases in an app like FileMaker Pro, or working with complex workbooks such as in Microsoft Excel. But the number of professional image-editing, video-editing, and Office-like editing tools available for the iPad, and to a lesser extent Android, is truly amazing. As you can see, tablets replace and supplement computers.

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