The PC era is over. The tablet has won.

Boxing gloves

Apple's chief executive, Steve Jobs, may be credited with coining the term "post PC", as a way of describing the growing importance of devices such as the iPhone and iPad. And, although Jobs is by no means the first person to use the term "post PC", there is a growing body of statistical evidence to suggest he is, broadly right. The PC has had its day.

According to research company IHS, shipments of "internet enabled consumer electronic devices" will reach 503 million units by 2013. This is just a shade less than double the number of PC shipments IHS predicts for the same period, at 253 million units. By 2015, IHS expects the non-PC device shipments to reach 781 million units, against PC sales of 479 million.

By no means all these devices will be iPads or iPhones, or even tablets and smart phones, of course. IHS casts its net wide, and includes internet-connected TVs, Blu-ray players and video games consoles. But whilst these devices might not have the impact of the tablet, at least within the enterprise, they will have an enormous impact on how consumers interact with businesses across the net.

Already, companies such as Skype have ported their communications software to internet-ready TVs; there are Facebook and YouTube clients for the Xbox. If the analysts' predictions are to be believed, consumers are as likely to view content, communicate, or shop, on those devices, or on a tablet, as they do on a PC today.

Businesses will need to invest more in making sure that their websites, and especially their e-commerce offerings, work well on these new platforms, as well as devices such as the iPad.

Whilst online services such as YouTube and Facebook do much of the hard work for their commercial partners and advertisers, by releasing apps for new devices, there are still plenty of websites that fail to run properly on an iPad, and not only because they use Flash. The old argument, trotted out by lazy web developers and overworked IT staff, that "everyone uses a Windows PC", simply no longer holds.

Digitimes expects Apple to ship 40 million iPads this year, giving the device a 61 per cent market share. Even if that share falls, the overall tablet market can only grow, and businesses will face developing sites, and content, for an ever-more diverse range of devices.

Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps puts explains this well, setting out four essential changes in the type of hardware we use to go online.

Devices will move from being stationary to ubiquitous; from formal to casual; from arms-length to intimate; and from abstracted to physical. Ms Rotman Epps explains this in more detail in a blog post and video on the post PC era.

This "form-factor diversity" might be analyst speak, but is a trend that will not go away and one IT directors cannot ignore.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT PRO.

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