IT in the Post-PC Era

Judging from the latest research, it looks like we’re about to enter the post-PC era and taking us there is the smartphone. According to Gartner, 2011 is the year of the smartphone. Gartner projects 95 million smartphone sales this year, up from 67 million in 2010 compared to 50.9 million PC sales. For now, devices like the Apple iPhone or the Google Droid will usher in the post-PC era, not the tablet device despite the recent hype around tablets like the Apple iPad or Motorola Xoom.

A year ago an article of mine suggested that your next PC might be a smartphone. It appears to be happening faster than the WiFi providers can build out their networks.  The WiFi network at Mobile World Congress a few weeks back apparently was saturated and slowed to a crawl. Even the WiFi network at my local Starbucks sometimes seems to choke.

But WiFi network constraints aren’t slowing down some organizations. Wells Fargo reportedly is ramping up a mobile payments pilot using selected iPhone and BlackBerry models. Is IT ready to handle high volume transactions and payments via smartphone? It’s coming.

WiFi congestion, as it turns out, shouldn’t be a long term constraint. The big problem is with free WiFi, but smartphones can also use the cellular phone network to surf the Web, for which customers pay an extra $30-$50 a month. At that price there will be plenty of bandwidth.

Gartner clearly is bullish on smartphones. One report has Gartner predicting that US consumers are more likely to buy a smartphone than any other device due to the ongoing price wars that keep prices down and the popularity of smartphones for applications like email, Web surfing, Twitter, Facebook, GPS, and games.

In the early days of PC adoption ease-of-use was a major barrier to adoption. Smartphones beat the ease-of-use problem from the start. If anything, early iPhone adoption was driven in large part by its slick, intuitive user interface. With a few glaring exceptions, the other vendors have done reasonably well imitating the iPhone’s ease-of-use.

The first question facing the organization considering smartphones is which device. Unlike the PC, there is not yet a standard OS or device. Each vendor’s device will require specific support, which could turn into an IT support nightmare unless the organization standardizes on one. The main selection criteria are reception/coverage and apps availability.

Beyond that, organizations need to consider security, governance policy, new app development, and integration with existing applications. Each raises significant concerns. For example, smartphone users already are developing apps to solve little, annoying business problems, a phenomenon Gartner calls citizen developers, or worker developers.  But these apps are being developed outside of IT, which can either embrace such innovations or fight it, which ultimately will be a losing battle for IT.

Can the organization adopt the smartphone today as a replacement for the laptop or desktop? It depends on the particular users. For users only doing email and Web surfing (and phone calling, of course), sure. For those working in any serious way with documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoints, or enterprise applications, probably not yet and maybe never. We may be on the cusp of the post-PC era but plan to hold onto your laptops a bit longer.



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