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This article was published on April 17, 2013

On the record with Pokki’s Chester Ng: A conversation on the PC market and its rumored demise

On the record with Pokki’s Chester Ng: A conversation on the PC market and its rumored demise
Alex Wilhelm
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Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

TNW recently caught up with Chester Ng, founder of SweetLabs, to talk over the PC market. Chester’s company is the creator of Pokki, a Windows-based application store and start-button replacement that brings mobile-esque apps directly to your desktop. Its Windows 8 version has been a hit for the company, attracting more than 1.5 million downloads by mid-January.

The company hasn’t released new figures in recent months.

Pokki, the SweetLabs product, is interesting as it is a bet that Windows-based PCs will not only continue to sell, but sell well. Given that, the company has unique usage data and insight into the PC market. Enjoy:

TNW: PC shipments are in decline. The trend appears to be accelerating. Many have placed the blame for this directly on smartphones, is that a fair analysis?

Chester: No. There is no question that PC shipments are decelerating and smartphone shipments are accelerating. But to blame the latter for the former (or the former for the latter) is just lazy analysis. The problem is that readers may misinterpret this analysis (typically coupled with a grim “PC is dead” tombstone), to believe that people are actually tossing out their PCs and replacing them with smartphones which isn’t true.

What’s missing from the analysis is that upgrade cycles have naturally slowed as the PC market has matured, which isn’t the smartphone’s fault. Also, tablets have become a viable alternative to buying extra PCs for many households, as evidenced in the rapidly growing shipments of this new category. Lastly, of course in certain developing countries, people may buy smartphones as their primary connected device, but it’s arguable as to whether or not they would have been a target customer for a PC in the first place.

TNW: Longer PC upgrade cycles are a potential cause of lower than expected demand. Will we see faster cycles in the future, or are we simply in a new era of upgrade speed?

Chester: I think we’re seeing signs of the latter – existing PCs are powerful enough to last longer than ever before. That doesn’t mean they last forever, but an average consumer can make their PC last what would feel like an eternity to a non-average consumer like you and I – Forrester estimates up to 6 years at home and 4 years at work. This shift in upgrade cycles is natural though. In fact, I’d expect smartphones and tablets to follow suit as those markets and products mature, the upgrade speed will slow down.

Of course, the PC industry will continue to try to push the envelope to catalyze upgrades. For example, Microsoft’s upgrade discount for users still on the 12-year old (speaking of upgrade cycles) XP or Intel’s push into next-generation “perceptual computing” capabilities such as face, voice, and gesture recognition.

TNW: Pokki, a Sweet Labs product, has proven popular on Windows 8, giving you unique insight into the platform. What do you see as Windows 8’s weaknesses, and strengths?

Chester: I work for the only startup around who obsesses with making Windows better so yes, I’ve had a crash course in Windows 8 firsthand.

The main weakness is what I’ve stated from the start, the existence and interaction of the two different worlds: the Modern UI (formerly known as Metro) tailored to touch and the classic desktop, best used for point, click, and type. The latter still rules, from what all data has shown us, and that is why we’ve invested in Pokki to help bridge the gap for what we see as the main use case for the PC form factor, while Microsoft continues to innovate on touch.

The main strength of Windows 8 is it is still Windows at its core, a faster and more secure version running on more powerful, lighter, and sleeker PCs than ever. Living in San Francisco now, I’m surprised by how many people here live in a bubble and are absolutely shocked to hear that Windows still has 92% market share. It’s this loyalty (or the SF tech hipsters may argue, “inertia”) that will keep people on Windows and give the latest version a shot. Plus, you can install Pokki on Windows 8 which makes it even better!

TNW: The term ‘Post-PC World’ is often bandied about, what is your view on it and the concepts behind it?

Chester: I think it’s a stupid-ass term. The “post-PC world” is as misinterpreted as, and often served with a side of, cookie-cutter “PC is dead” analysis. The most common misconception is that it means the PC is disappearing when in reality, what it means is that the PC is no longer the center of the connected world and needs to evolve. In this new “multi-device world” (the term I prefer), consumers can now choose the right form factor for the right use case. For example, you can use your phone on the go, your tablet on the toilet, and your PC to type out a “PC is dead” blog post.

Each form factor has unique advantages. We believe that the PC form factor will evolve to end up serving key use cases from being a high-end device for gaming and content creation, to a low-cost device for fun and convenient apps, including apps that extend their experience from smartphones and tablets. The latter is where Pokki is trying to help.

TNW: When total digital usage is compared, how do smartphones and PCs compare?

Chester: We’ve collected a lot of data on this, and although smartphone usage is rising, the PC still remains enormous in terms of usage. A recent Deloitte study showed that 70% of hours we spend on computing devices (PC, smartphones, tablets) are on a PC and 80% of Internet traffic comes from the PC form factor. Not only is the bulk of time being spent on the PC but also the bulk of money. For example, eMarketer estimates that 1.5% of US ad spend comes from mobile while 20.9% comes from online PC users. Bottom line: a ton of time and money is, and will, continue to be spent on the PC in this “multi-device world.”

TNW: Will Windows 8.1, often referred to as Windows Blue, change Windows’ current momentum?

Chester: I have no doubt 8.1 will improve the OS, but to put so much pressure on a minor update I haven’t actually seen would be unfair. For as much as I’ve given Windows 8 a hard time, I’m a PC guy, so I’m rooting for Windows to get better and we’ll keep playing our role in trying to help.

TNW: Finally, in terms of normal misconceptions, what is the most common error that you see in current media analysis of the PC market?

Chester: That the “PC is dead” in this “post-PC world.” In other words, when media is actually talking themselves, and their readers, into believing that the PC form factor is expiring, rather than evolving to play its new role in the “multi-device world.” Let’s not forget that even as smartphones and tablets have emerged, the existing base of 1.5 to 1.7 billion PCs has held strong and the amount of time and money being spent on these devices is only increasing as a whole.

The current media analysis is often missing how much time and money is being spent on the PC today and the key use cases in which the PC will be the form factor of choice, in a complementary fashion to smartphones and tablets.

Agree? Disagree? The comments are yours.

Top Image Credit: Dell Inc.