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Previous USAToday Columns

October 28, 2015
Apple's biggest threat could be...Apple

October 15, 2015
Is it time to upgrade your PC?

October 5, 2015
Microsoft's next smartphone may extend Windows 10 features, like iris scans

September 24, 2015
Is the auto industry ripe for disruption?

September 10, 2015
The next version of Apple? It’s all about services

September 1, 2015
A fresh look at PCs

August 10, 2015
The future of cars is smart, not autonomous

July 23, 2015
The Personal Value of IOT is All About Connections

July 3, 2015
Over your PC monitor? These changes will surprise you

June 18, 2015
Passwords must die

June 4, 2015
The best new tech is invisible

May 13, 2015
The Battle for the Living Room

April 30, 2015
The new platform wars

April 15, 2015
Is Apple now a Gen 2 product company?

April 2, 2015
Smartwatches: The New Smartphones Jr?

March 19, 2015
Microsoft Windows: Not dead yet

March 5, 2015
MWC 2015: It was all about connected wearables

February 11, 2015
High tech and the laggard effect

anuary 29, 2015
Microsoft Hololens and the evolution of computing

January 15, 2015
Commentary: Tech device diversity set to explode with IoT

2014 USAToday Columns

USAToday Column

November 11, 2015
Tablet vs. PC? Tim Cook aside, consumers really don't care

By Bob O'Donnell

FOSTER CITY, Calif. — Everybody loves a good fight.

Over the years, the tech world has seen more than its share of platform battles, search engine skirmishes, company clashes, and other confrontations that typically pit one technological perspective against another.

The most recent example has been reinvigorated by Wednesday’s formal release of Apple’s iPad Pro. The 12” tablet was widely touted as being a laptop alternative, but the general consensus seems to be that, for most people, it really isn’t. Throw in Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent provocative, pejorative comments on the PC industry as a whole and, in particular, Microsoft’s new Surface Book—a detachable laptop that could potentially replace your tablet—and you have the perfect storm for yet another round of the PC vs. tablet debate.

The problem is, these arguments ignore the reality that exists today for most normal people, and, outside the tech industry circle, have no real meaning. Plus, they’re incredibly short-sighted.

Most people today own and regularly use multiple intelligent devices, typically some combination of PCs, tablets, smartphones, smart wearables, connected TVs, and much more. In fact, TECHnalysis Research just completed a worldwide study of over 3,000 consumers across five countries and four continents and found that people had an average of nearly 6 devices per household: 1.3 PCs, 0.9 tablets, 1.5 smartphones, 1.9 TVs, and 0.3 wearables.

More importantly, when asked about more than 25 different types of activities that they could be doing on those devices—everything from browsing the web, watching videos/movies, social media, email, gaming, and so on—every single activity was carried out across multiple devices. In other words, people don’t worry about the devices; they do whatever activity they want to do, on whatever device happens to be most convenient. On average, only 11% of respondents said they did one activity (for example, listening to music or doing productivity-type applications) solely on a single device.

The key message? Arguing about device superiority is meaningless to the real world, because people are used to, and actually like and expect to, use multiple devices in their daily lives and activities. There is no one device to rule them all.

The problem is only going to get worse. With smartphones growing into “phablets” and notebooks evolving into 2-in-1s, the boundaries between product categories are becoming meaningless. In fact, as someone who has quite a bit of experience in trying to define device categories for market sizing purposes, I can assure you that trying to categorize products has become an exercise in futility.

Additionally, within the next 1-2 years, we’re likely to see developments in foldable or bendable displays, and other intriguing materials technologies that will really make these arguments pointless. Imagine devices the size of current smartphones or tablets that unfold into something as large or larger than a notebook and you start to get the idea.

Instead of focusing on individual devices, the tech industry needs to embrace the multiple device-per-person reality and provide a better means to make different devices—and the different platforms they inevitably run on—work better together.

Efforts in creating device- and platform-independent, web-based services, such as Microsoft’s Office 365, Apple’s Music service, and Facebook’s new ventures into content publishing, among others, are obviously a step towards the future. However, we’re also going to need a lot more work even in basic things like better interconnectivity across and between devices and platforms if we want to move away from the silly device battles that still manage to grab today’s headlines.

In a world where the number of devices per person is going to increase, the value and importance of each individual device will decrease. Given that reality, there are much more pressing challenges (and opportunities) for the industry to solve than playground battles over who has the bigger stick.

USA TODAY columnist Bob O'Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. His clients are major technology firms including Microsoft, HP, Dell and Nvidia. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

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