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Where do we go from here?

by on23 January 2013 3637 times

The consumer electronic market is an interesting one. It is probably one of the only markets (with the exception of possibly the auto industry) to have the massive number of incorrect segmenting of products. One of the biggest areas of segmentation (incorrect segmentation) is in the “PC” market. Here the competition for products is insane. Back in the early days (the days when we had IBM Compatibles) things were relatively simple; at least they were on the surface. When you walked into a store and looked for a computer (if you were at all interested in having one back in the mid-90s) you saw IBM’s and their clones. One of the first computers I was exposed to was the Osborne One which actually predates the original IBM PC and the consolidation of the market in the early to mid-80s. In fact it was the introduction of the IBM PC combined with the Kaypro II portable that ended up killing Osborne and their chance in the market.

So at the time that IBM launched their “PC” the market split into IBM PCs and clones and well, everyone else. Before that the term PC meant Personal Computer and had nothing to do with who made it or the CPU under the hood.  Now there is a definite line between what people think of as a PC and what other computers are. If you call a Mac a PC you will offend more than a few people despite the fact that internally they are pretty much the same devices and OSX runs on an x86 version of BSD that Apple customized (and optimized) for a specific set of hardware (called a Build of Materials or BOM).  In the Microsoft and Linux worlds the variety of hardware that is used is much larger and in many ways the opportunities for performance are better. Of course with that many options you also have a greater chance for problems (compatibility and driver issues).

Now we have even more products on the market that can actually be considered “PCs”. We have smartphones and tablets that can send and receive email, SMS messages, video, and more. There are almost as many apps for these devices as there are for the more traditional PCs. Still by the most basic definition these are still Personal Computing devices. These devices are not only becoming more prevalent but more powerful and in order to get more of these in the hands of consumers manufacturers have been pushing them as real personal computing devices. This has even further divided the market and started to cannibalize the traditional PC market. So what do we do now that we have expanded and segmented the market in the way that we have?

Well if you are AMD and Intel you start pushing back with the weapons you have; flexibility, power, and legacy applications. Both of these companies might have the upper hand in the performance market for desktops, laptops and other systems, but they are behind (for now) in the mobile world where the consumer does not know the core differences between the two systems. Added to that small problem is the fact that companies like Microsoft, Apple, and even the gaming companies are pushing the cloud as the answer (to their revenue stream problems). In this respect ARM has something of an advantage; ARM can maintain the low power (compute power), low specification processors and let the cloud do all of their work. In fact one of the leading ARM partners (nVidia) is not only building a cloud gaming and rendering platform named nVidia Grid, but they also design ARM based SoCs for tablets.

So both Intel and AMD have to find a way to cover all of their bases. For AMD this has meant designing APUs that use low power for compute, but have excellent headroom for graphics. AMD is also working on their very own ARM SoC to complement their x86 SoCs in fact at CES AMD went to great lengths to show off not only their CPUs in tablets, but also their close partnership with Visio and their new mobile devices. They have been working on expanding their presence in this market since early 2011 and although they still have a ways to go (and also need to actually execute) if AMD plays their cards right they can push into this market on the backs of Intel’s move into mobile simply because once they see what x86 can do in mobile the consumer will want more options (including lower priced options).

Speaking of Intel; as many already know, Intel is working very hard to push into these emerging markets as well as build products that can do more than just display the output from a cloud service. This is something of a shift for Intel as they have been working to expand the performance envelope for the desktop since they lost the performance crown to the AMD Athlon and the Athlon x64 (in 2003). Still Intel has a few things up their sleeve like the NUC, Haswell, and new versions of the Atom CPU (and SoC). Intel is also a much more nimble company than they were when AMD managed to pull ahead of them in the late 90s/ early 2000s so they can make these shifts a little better than they have in the past. One of the biggest reasons for this is simply that Intel is big enough to work on multiple projects at once.

So moving forward the market is going to become even more confused than it is now. We will have ARM and x86 tablets and phones right alongside ARM and x86 desktops and laptops. The consumer will be stuck in the middle with little to no information on what the real differences are between these segments and, if the software market continues the way it is, will be even more confused by the software side of things where everything from your OS to the games you play could be cloud based. Although the devices we pick will be broken out more clearly the line between what is and what is not a “PC” will fade until it is as non-existent as it was in the beginning of the computing era.

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Last modified on 23 January 2013
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