June 2012 may well go down as the month the tech world entered a new era. On June 11, Apple showed its next operating system for iPhones and iPads. It offered maps and speech recognition, plus music and movies on iTunes, all tied via the Internet to Apple’s “cloud” of servers.
A week later, Microsoft, known better for software, demonstrated the Surface tablet, its answer to the iPad. The Surface interacts with both the Web and Microsoft’s cloud, called Windows Azure. And, on Wednesday, Google introduced its newest cloud-connected phone and tablet, as well as a media player called Nexus Q.
The player works with the devices, the Internet and the Google cloud. Remarkably fast, a multibillion-dollar industry is moving away from personal computers made mostly with Microsoft Windows software and Intel semiconductor chips.
The combined revenue from these largely “Wintel” desktops and laptops last year was about $70 billion at Dell and Hewlett-Packard. But these companies played virtually no part in the June shows.
Asked what part it hoped to play in the cloud-dominated future, Dell declined to comment. An HP spokesman said in a statement that his company had computer servers and software in “eight of 10 of the world’s most trafficked sites, four out of five of the world’s largest search engines, the three most popular social media properties in the US” He said nothing about PCs.
The tech future also poses challenges for Intel, which has been diversifying. Its chips are now in Apple computers and a host of other devices. Intel still has a significant place in the market, but often with lower-margin chips, and increased competition.
Another chip company, Nvidia, got a shout from Google’s stage. We are seeing a new business ecosystem with all sorts of mobile and cloud-connected devices. Each is a powerful computer, with connections to a nearly infinite amount of data storage and processing in the cloud.
“We’re entering this era where consumer electronics is the hardware, and the software and the cloud,” said Matt Hershenson, Google’s hardware director. His view increasingly holds for bus- ness computing, too.
Coincidentally, Friday was the fifth anniversary of the iPhone’s introduction. Next week, cloud-based software applications for the iPhone from outside developers will have their fourth anniversary. And, already, cloud devices that Google called experimental last year are now almost mainstream.