Apple CEO Steve Jobs, sitting on stage at a conference in 2007 with Microsoft's Bill Gates, first raised the idea of a "post-PC" era, a time when the traditional PC would no longer be the center of a user's universe. Instead, more mobile, function-specific devices would come into play, and would make computers much more personal than the PC.
The proposal of a post-PC era certainly was a self-serving one for Jobs, whose company that year released its first iPhone, which would kick off a smartphone revolution that would include such vendors as Samsung, HTC and Motorola, and bring Google's Android operating system to the forefront. Just three years later, Apple would follow the iPhone with the iPad, which jump-started a moribund tablet market.
There is no question that the introduction of smartphones and tablets—and soon, wearable devices—have had a significant impact on the PC market, where shipments worldwide have continued to tumble in the past several quarters as business users and consumers alike turn their attention and technology dollars to these more mobile and more personal devices.
The ripple effect has been felt strongly by any major tech vendor that has had historically close ties with the PC market, from chip makers Intel and Advanced Micro Devices to PC makers Hewlett-Packard and Dell. Even Microsoft, whose Windows OS has dominated the PC space since the 1990s, has yet to win significant mobile market share. Microsoft is still fighting for traction against Google's Android and Apple's iOS.
All these companies are scrambling to reduce their reliance on the established PC market by finding new growth areas, from enterprise IT solutions and the embedded market to game consoles and the mobile space. However, officials with all these companies believe that the PC market will continue to be an important one for them; they note that despite the shipment declines, they will cumulatively sell more than 300 million PCs worldwide in 2013.
They also believe that a new generation of PCs—more portable, more energy-efficient and more tablet-like in a range of new form factors—will give users the necessary incentives to begin buying systems again.
They also expect that Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8.1—and the ending of support next year for the creaky Windows XP—will further fuel interest.
"The PC market will remain an important business for AMD for years to come," AMD CEO Rory Read told analysts and journalists during an April 18 conference call. "The PC is far from dead."
Changes are quickly coming to the tech industry, and the PC segment is not being spared. Tablets, smartphones, the cloud and other trends are having lasting impacts on what devices users want and how they use them. But whether we're moving into a post-PC world is debatable.
"It's a moving target," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Research, told eWEEK, adding that PCs mean different things to different regions of the world. "There are places in Asia where I think there never was a PC era."