We don’t live in the post-PC era – we live in the convergence era

This blog post was also featured as a column in the October 2015 issue of Legal Practice Management magazine. To read the issue in full, download LPM magazine.

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A recent Ofcom report shed some interesting light on the PC and mobile devices market in the UK, and called into further question the idea that we now live in the ‘post-PC’ era. The data and its implications could have a big impact on how law firms connect and communicate with their clients in the future.

The report stated that the same number of households now have smartphones as have PCs (66%, 65% respectively), while 54% of households own at least one tablet device. If you conduct a quick self-survey of the internet devices in your home (set-top boxes, PCs, phones, tablets, games consoles, etc) you’ll probably find you have as many as you do kitchen appliances, maybe even more.

While on the surface this data indicates the dominance of mobile devices for consumers, it’s worth looking a little further into some of the underlying trends. According to the majority of global research companies (such as IDC and Gartner) the sales of tablets and smartphones have slowed down dramatically over the last 12 months while at the same time the declining sales of PCs have plateaued and started to stabilise. All the indicators are that the market is reaching a natural saturation point – an equilibrium where previously competing devices now coexist, and technology platforms are merging into one productivity suite, converging our use of devices. There are plenty of examples right now where this is occurring: the launch of Windows 10 delivering a unified OS across desktop, phones and tablets; the merger of OS X and iOS within Apple products; laptops that act like tablets, and tablets that are sold with keyboards and mice.

Yet while the devices we use start to merge together there still seems to be a clear split in terms of content production and consumption. The consumption of content on mobile devices may be on the rise but it seems that the production of content remains firmly in the realms of the PC/laptop. And there are clearly certain activities that favour (and are preferred) on different devices. For example, despite the Ofcom report highlighting the growth in mobile device adoption, it also states that only 25% of mobile users use the device to make a purchase – the vast majority of purchases online are still made from desktops/laptops and not smartphones or tablets.

All these facts pose an interesting dilemma for law firms: clearly consumers are using more and more mobile devices to consume content, but that content is still largely produced on desktop and laptop devices. At the same time there is still the outstanding question of whether clients really want to conduct their legal matters on a mobile device. Like banking and insurance, legal matters for consumers are typically personal and sensitive, and can of course be text-heavy. Would you want to review and (digitally sign) a contract on an iPhone? We need to find a balance, utilising applications where the device supports the production/consumption method and makes it more effective (such as digital dictation and time recording on mobile devices, and document production on desktops/laptops). It’s not about one or the other – it’s about productive balance.

We don’t live in the post-PC era – we live in the convergence era, where most of us happily switch between devices depending on our situation or requirements at any one moment in time. And despite the rise of smartphones and tablets, we’ve yet to see that truly paradigm-shifting step that would ultimately wrench us away from the desktop and leave the PC era behind. 

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