Jan 30

Exit the vanity PC; enter the vanity iPad/tablet?

According to the FT in its piece about the latest iPad upgrade (January 30, 2013), Philip Schiller, Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing, said 120m iPad owners were using these “rather than their old PCs” to fulfil both “business and personal needs”.  The implication, at least according to Mr Schiller, seems that to be that the PC must be dead or dying because it is being supplanted by iPads.  This seems a dubious (except to Apple) proposition.

What may be true is something slightly different, and rather more plausible.  This is that the ‘vanity PC’ (or laptop) is being added to (but not replaced) by iPads (and potentially other tablets), which may or may not in turn be ‘vanity tablets’.

So what is a ‘vanity device’?   It is a device purchased for (or by) an executive more for show rather than serious use.  You think these do not exist?  If so, you are sadly mistaken.

The first ‘vanity device’ I encountered was when consulting for a significant UK company whose deputy chairman insisted that he must have a (what was then the new-fangled) PC in his office.  The limitations on his usage were best illustrated by this company’s IT Centre, located some 30 miles away from Head Office.  On more than one occasion an support specialist had to incur the corporate cost to drive to and from central London to put back the PC’s plug back into the electricity socket — because no one had worked out (the courage) how to ask him to check that the PC was plugged into the wall and the switch turned on. (It transpired that the cleaner used that same power point to clean his office, but never reconnected what she had pulled out).  Worse still he could not even log on for himself but insisted that the PC be left logged-in when he was not there…

Most recently I encountered a partner in a financial services company who has an laptop but who never edited (nevermind originated) a document (or spreadsheet or presentation).  His PA confirmed that that laptop was for receiving and reading information — and fair enough.  Nevertheless the laptop (in this case) was a smart one, both fashionable and overpowered as well as more than is necessary for the modest tasks being performed.

In the latter case, a 2012/2013-style tablet actually can make more sense than a laptop PC.  An iPad or Android tablet IS a great mobile content consumption device, even if it is not so good for content creation.  A tablet is also a great data access device, though not so good for data manipulation, and potentially excellent for enhancing workflow-based decision taking (as Workday, SAP and others are demonstrating).

Herein lies the issue that Mr. Schiller raised.  Are the alleged 120M iPads:

  • displacing working laptops/PCs?
  • displacing vanity laptops/PCs?
  • adding to the collection of ‘vanity devices’ that are minimally used by (especially) executives?
  • adding to the collection of working devices that are in constant use by other executives, managers and users?

At the December’s Dell World (in Austin) John Swainson (Dell’s head of software and ex-CEO of CA and more) stated that at one conference he had attended he had almost felt he was confessing when he owned up to carrying 5 devices, saying also that he was not the person carrying the most devices.  Equally I have to confess that, when business traveling, I rarely have less than 4 devices (at least 3 smartphones covering 3 countries/networks, possibly two tablets  — of different sizes and capabilities — and normally a laptop.  If he and I are even only mildly representative, many others will be adding to their device collection rather than displacing existing ones.

The core issue continues, therefore, to be about content creation.  Microsoft’s Office retains its premier position, not least because interchanging editable documents (spreadsheet, presentation or written document) matters.

Could Office 2013 change this, by enabling all to exchange and edit through the cloud?  Yes, possibly.  It will be interesting to see how creating and editing Office business documents in the cloud on an iPad or Android tablet will feel — and for that we will have to wait until late February.

As I, and many others, have argued, Office remains a significant key to tablets and their future in and between enterprises.  Thus far Windows 8 RT has proved to be a mixed bag — because Office is more than the sum of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and more: Office represents a healthy ecosystem with enormous flexibility, choice and function coming from the largest development community (still).  Gainsaying this be difficult and full Office on full Win8 tablet is still an emerging arena (the first Win8 tablets have not really convinced).

Apple has a tradition of claiming much, while also being happy to omit sustaining detail.  Apple seems also to be suffering; its own personal computer sales are falling (despite refreshes).  Indeed, the closer that OS X and iOS become the easier it is for the Mac-world (especially those not using Office) to migrate to iPads, for the function is so much more similar.

2013 is likely to be a turning point in the PC/tablet evolution.  Office will likely be a major determinant of what emerges.  Even so, the ‘vanity device’ phenomenon will continue — and will include (rather than displace) vanity tablets as well as vanity laptops (especially of the super-sexy, brushed aluminium, high price variety).  It is not strange that those same executives who insist on cost reduction/containment/management also insist on the latest and best of something that all too many of them do not really use?  Yet the car precedent has been there for all to see for decades — as Audi, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes and others have and continue to enjoy.

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