Preston Gralla: iPad vs. PC: Sometimes the accepted wisdom is right

Will innovative PCs put an end to the iPad era?

It has become accepted wisdom among IT professionals and industry observers that tablets have eaten heavily into PC sales and will continue to do so, bringing the PC era to a close.

Of course, there is always a naysayer, and at least one analyst is challenging the accepted wisdom. Citibank's Glen Yeung argues that PCs will reclaim the innovation crown from Apple's iPad. In a recent research note to clients, Yeung says that Apple's plans for upgrading the next generation of iPads calls for only the basics: an improved screen, a smaller and lighter footprint and a new processor. His conclusion: "iPad innovation of this nature is insufficient to reverse share loss."

For him, true innovation will come in the Windows world, where a new generation of "touch-based, ultrathin, all-day notebooks at improving price points" is poised to turn people back to the possibilities of a PC.

Intel's new Haswell chip will make this possible, Yeung says. I won't get into all the nitty-gritty specs of the Haswell chip. But here's what's important: The chip, expected to be launched in June, is designed to deliver high performance with very low power consumption. In addition, Yeung claims that Intel will require all Haswell-based ultrabooks to be touch-enabled, adding that the company "envisions price points as low as $599."

But the Haswell chip isn't just for ultrabooks. You can also expect Windows 8 tablets, as well as hybrid devices -- thin, light machines that do dual duty as notebooks and tablets. It's become a truism that tablets are for consuming content and notebooks for creating it. These hybrids will be able to change form and do both.

There's some evidence that Yeung might be on to something. A recent Forrester report, "2013 Mobile Workforce Adoption Trends," found that for their next tablet, information workers favor Windows over the iPad, with 32% saying they want a Windows tablet, 26% opting for an Apple tablet, and 12% choosing an Android device. In total, the report claims, 200 million information workers prefer Windows tablets over competing devices.

It's also clear that hardware makers are experimenting far more with Windows devices than Apple is with the iPad. With Apple's current plans, the iPad you're using today is largely the same as the next iPad you'll buy, except the new one will be faster and lighter and will have a better screen. Windows 8, though, has led to an explosion in the number of form factors and ways to interact with the operating system. Notable new options include touch-enabled ultrabooks and a variety of tablet-ultrabook combos. There's even talk of a Windows "phablet," a Windows Phone crossed with a Windows tablet.

That all bodes well for Windows. But I'm not yet convinced that Yeung is right. Sales of Windows 8 devices remain sluggish, and iPad sales show no sign of slowing down. Moreover, a Gartner report says that the popularity of iPads and iPhones is forcing enterprises to support Macs as well as PCs, and that Macs will be as commonly accepted in enterprises as PCs by 2014.

In the hardware world, there is no "build it and they will come" imperative. Just because PC makers are innovating doesn't mean people will buy the new hardware. So until I see PC and Windows tablet sales leap and iPad sales stagnate, I won't be a believer in Yeung's theory.

Preston Gralla is a Computerworld.com contributing editor and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).

Read more about hardware in Computerworld's Hardware Topic Center.

This story, "Preston Gralla: iPad vs. PC: Sometimes the accepted wisdom is right" was originally published by Computerworld.

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