Making Sense of the Post-Post-PC Era

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h1Windows 8 is absolutely the future of computing ... the OS will ship on hundreds of millions of devices over the coming years.

Zach Epstein, BGR

Zach Epstein has worked in and around the telecommunications industry for 10 years, first in marketing and business development with two private telcos, then as a writer and editor covering business, technology and telecommunications. As a writer, Zach’s work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was named one of the top 10 power mobile influencers in the world by Forbes in January 2012. Zach is now Executive Editor at BGR, where he guides the editorial team and contributes reports and analyses with an unbiased viewpoint and a widely respected voice. He's also one of the top voices in the SAY 100 technology channel.

We talked to him after this year's CES to find out what this year's big stories in mobile will be, why Windows 8 is the future of computing, and what he thinks Apple should do with its 100+ billion cash pile.

You're a telecomm and mobile guy. What's on your radar for most interesting things we'll see in those areas in 2012? Telecoms, and mobile specifically, is an exciting space to be covering this year because several huge questions from 2011 will be answered, at least to an extent, in 2012. How will Google's Motorola Mobility acquisition impact other Android partners and the industry itself? How will AT&T proceed now that its T-Mobile USA buy has been blocked? Will Microsoft's multi-billion dollar deal with Nokia finally turn significant consumer attention to Windows Phone? What will become of RIM and its next-generation BlackBerry 10 platform now that its former co-CEOs have passed the torch? These questions and more will be key focuses for me this year.

Any other bold predictions for 2012? It has been some time since we saw any really exciting movement in the TV space, but I think 2012 is going to change that. Smart, connected, voice and gesture-controlled HDTVs with gorgeous OLED panels were shown off at CES this year, and things will really heat up if and when Apple enters the space.

In terms of smartphones, which still make up the hottest segment in tech right now, we're nearing a point where something has to give. UBS's Maynard Um projects that Apple and Samsung will combine to account for 90% of all smartphone profits in 2012, which would leave RIM, HTC, Nokia, Motorola, Sony, LG and others fighting for scraps. Apple and Samsung each have tremendous momentum moving into 2012—Samsung just posted its best-ever quarter and last month Apple reported the most profitable quarter in history among technology companies—and other vendors in the space will really need to focus on innovation, separation and marketing if they want to stay in the smartphone business. Maybe not as soon as this year, but I think we could see one or more big names exit the space in the near future, or at least shift focus dramatically.

Mobile content – any breakthroughs you see coming there? Gaming will continue to be a big deal for mobile platforms in 2012, and video game console vendors like Nintendo and Sony haven't yet adapted to take advantage of the boom we're seeing in mobile casual gaming. Mobile gaming will probably never approach console gaming in terms of quality and capabilities, but there is still plenty of money to be made in casual gaming on mobile platforms.

E-readers – who's going to win that war? A lot of pundits are quick to discount Barnes & Noble and hail Amazon as the king of the eBook space, but B&N still has a lot of fight left in it. The company also makes terrific products that are selling quite well; Barnes & Noble's Nook Color is one of the best-selling tablets in the industry's short history, and the Nook Tablet picks up where the Color left off.

Then there's the Nook Touch, which happens to be the eReader I use personally. Amazon's E Ink Kindles are great but I'll take the Nook Touch's soft-touch feel over the hard, uncomfortable Kindle all day. Plus, the battery on the Nook Touch lasts forever.

Barnes & Noble has a struggling brick and mortar business to deal with and Amazon is working with margins so tight that it saw net income fall by nearly 60% last quarter. There's no clear winner in this war just yet.

Windows 8 – is it really the future of computing and the beginning of the post-post-PC era? How so? Windows 8 is absolutely the future of computing. When I wrote that Microsoft's next-generation platform would usher in the "post-post-PC era," I got tremendous response, both positive and negative. Most of the negative response came from people who didn't quite understand my argument.

Apple did a terrific job marketing the iPad, and part of its message was "post-PC." Apple's core business has moved away from PCs thanks to the tremendous success of its iOS line of devices, and the company will continue to dominate the smartphone and tablet markets for years to come. PCs, however, aren't going anywhere.

Luckily, there is room for both product segments. Lightweight tablets—and by "lightweight," I mean tablets running mobile operating systems—will continue to see growth, but heavyweight desktop and laptop PCs still offer increased utility and countless benefits over media tablets. Windows 8 spans both categories, and the OS will ship on hundreds of millions of devices over the coming years.

We will see the line between PC and media tablet blur a bit this year as multiple Windows 8 vendors will focus on convertible laptop/tablet combinations with touchscreens, but it will be quite some time until mobile operating systems offer power and utility that approaches desktop operating systems like Windows and OS X.

Apple – what do you think they should really do with their gazillions of dollars? It's hard to give Apple advice these days considering it's the most valuable company in the world, so I give the same mostly-joking response whenever I'm asked what Apple should do with its $100+ billion cash pile: Apple should build its products in America. Of course this can't and won't happen for more reasons than I can count.

In reality, we'll probably see a cash dividend soon even though Apple is known for ignoring Wall Street's cries. Apple is also all about control, so we may see the company make more component-focused acquisitions— Intrinsity and Anobit could be the tip of the Iceberg.

What's going to happen to RIM? Right now it's anyone's guess. RIM finally caved in to pressure from investors and named a new CEO as well a new chairwoman recently, but investors didn't react favorably. I know there's plenty of talent at RIM and QNX has a great deal of potential, but RIM is currently planning to release just one BlackBerry 10 smartphone in 2012 according to our sources, and it's going to be a high-end phone. That means while entry-level Android phones proliferate in emerging markets and the iPhone gains enterprise popularity, RIM will be selling dusty old BlackBerry 7 phones to the majority of its customers.

I won't count RIM out. Not by a long shot. But things are going to get worse before they get better and I can definitely see the next chapter in the book of RIM ending with a partial sale, a full sale or some key licensing agreements.

As someone who lives and breathes tech, what other reporters or sites do you follow? Any rising stars you see? Someone in my line of work has no choice but to read everything. I watch about 80 sites using Google reader and I have hundreds more spread across several Twitter lists (I'm really not sure how I would survive without Google Reader or Twitter lists). Gabe Rivera's Techmeme also plays a big role for me thanks to his awesome team of editors, and I watch Ycombinator's Hacker News a great deal as well.

As for individuals, most of my favorite writers and reporters don't cover technology but there are a handful who do. Tiernan Ray, who covers tech investing on the Barron's Tech Trader Daily blog is one, and I also really enjoy Newsweek's Dan Lyons. I get short, sweet, no holds barred Apple news from Jim Dalrymple at Loop Insight and I get my Microsoft fix from ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley. Roger Cheng at CNET and Sascha Segan at PCMag are both very talented journalists I read often, and Kara Swisher at WSJ's All Things D is easily among the best in the business.

Follow Zach on Twitter @zacharye