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Google I/O 2017 and the inevitable death of the PC

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With three billion users now using mobiles as their primary access to the internet, the era of the PC is over

Google I/O 2017 didn’t feature any truly spectacular new software or hardware. On the software side, there were iterative improvements to pretty much all of Google’s products. Everything is getting smarter, everything is using machine learning more and more, and there’s more proactivity being built into assistants. But there was one headline statistic which you might have missed: Android is now in use on two billion active devices worldwide.

Add to this the one billion active devices which Apple claims (including the Mac, but the majority will be iOS), and it’s clear that mobile platforms are the most important platform to ever exist in technology. By comparison, there are around 1.4 billion Windows PCs in use now. And that number is not going to get any higher, while Google is talking about how they get Android into the hands of the next billion people with Android Go.

For most people on the planet, the primary computing platform is the smartphone. And yet if you listen to old-school technologists, you’d still believe that phones are “just for consumption”, that you need a laptop to do real work and many other blatantly false claims.

I’m now at the point where I think “you can’t do real work on a smartphone” is up there with Thomas Watson’s “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” in its failure to grasp quite how much technology changes the rules of the game. Sure, you might find writing a novel on the phone sluggish – although products like Samsung Dex suggest the phone can be pushed a lot further as a laptop replacement – but the majority of people in business aren’t writing novels. And the key thing is that we adapt what we do to the strengths of the platform in front of us.

Smartphones have numerous advantages over PCs as business tools, from the sensors they have built into them to always-on connectivity to their incredible power as tools to communicate ideas. So how do you take advantage of this?

The fundamental question everyone should be asking themselves is this: can your business be run from a smartphone? And if not, how do you re-engineer it so it can be? We’ve moved beyond “mobile first” into an era when it’s legitimate to think of “mobile only”.

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