October 2012 will be remembered as the month of the Frankenstorm that hit the Mid-Atlantic. But I believe that years from now this month will also be remembered for something else, and no, it's not the Giants sweeping the Tigers in the World Series. No one will ever remember that. But people will remember an historic moment in tech history. That's because there are at least five technologies that officially began to die during those 30 days. Take note: You may want to re-consider your investments in these technologies.
Near the end of September, Apple formally released its iPhone 5 and everyone loved it. Slate's Farhad Manjoo called it "a miracle." CNET said, "It's the iPhone we've always wanted." Even the curmudgeonly Walt Mossberg from The Wall Street Journal is a fan.
Smartphone usage is booming around the world. But watch out ... because it's not going to last, at least not for business users. That's because the tablets are coming. In the last quarter, the global tablet market increased 43 percent over a year ago. And in October Microsoft released its first tablet, the Surface, which is geared specifically to businesses. That month, Apple also released the iPad Mini, a smaller version of its blockbuster tablet. Google came out with a new version of its Nexus tablet. Even Best Buy announced that it's getting into the tablet market. Amazon's Kindle Fire recorded its highest sales yet.
Of course, smartphones will never go away - people need a pocket-sized device to conveniently talk and text, and parents have to keep track of their kids somehow. But businesses are embracing tablets. They are more useful for data entry and retrieval. They are bigger and friendlier for the worker to use. And they're easier to carry around the warehouse or an airport. The rise of the tablet has only begun. And October was a milestone.
Microsoft released its much-touted Windows 8 in October and the entire world went "Meh." That's not because it isn't a great operating system. It is. And Microsoft will certainly sell tons of it. But remember in 1995, when everyone was so excited about Windows 95 and the Stones performed "Start Me Up" to help promote the Start button? Well, the Stones are back on tour again ... and they're looking pretty long in the tooth. It's the same with Windows 8: People, particularly businesspeople, don't really care about the operating system of a computer like they used to. We just expect it to work.
Operating systems used to be a big thing. But with remote desktop and cloud-based applications, they've become ... meh. The new features of Windows 8 (or iOS or Jelly Bean) don't matter - it's the apps. Today, a business can buy a Macbook, an Ultrabook or a ChromeBook and be confident that as long as there's a browser, employees will be able to connect to their office applications and do their work. In October 2012, Windows officially started to die.
We've seen the cracks in the armor. The bad mapping software. The overpriced iPad Mini. The falling stock price. And you know what we're all thinking: We miss Steve Jobs. Do you really think Jobs laid out a specific plan for Apple product development? I'm sure he changed his mind a million times as new facts came to light. So, how specific could his plans, if there were any, have been? He was a one-of-a-kind genius, but he's gone. And no one at Apple will replace him. Instead, we'll get less-than-insanely-great products from the company as the years go by. And we've started to see them in October 2012. Apple will of course be a giant player for years to come, but the iPad Mini shows how the company is trying too hard to be innovative and instead coming up short. It is the first in a long line of sub-par-to-Steve products.
Back in the good old days, Microsoft released new versions of Windows that required new hardware to run them. And that hardware ran on chips primarily made by Intel Corp. And the two companies raked it in. But that's all changed. And October 2012 marked a few milestones. That month, Intel announced that both revenues and profits dropped in the third quarter compared to the prior year, and IDC and Gartner Inc. reported that PC shipments in the third quarter fell more than 8 percent from a year earlier, the steepest drop since at least 2001. In record numbers, people are doing their work on laptops and devices that have never been touched by an employee at Microsoft or Intel. We all knew this was going to happen. And now we have proof. So much for the good old days of the Wintel alliance.
The cash register has been a bedrock of American retail for years and years. But no more. In October 2012 Urban Outfitters, a major retailer, announced that it will no longer have cash registers in its stores, instead equipping salespeople with iPod Touches and self-service iPads for their customers. This is just the beginning. Heather Clancy at ZDNet profiles one developer who wrote a point-of-sale application for the tablet that's now used by 2,000 retailers. Groupon, primarily known for its daily deals, released its own POS application for the iPad. And while the newest tablet-based POS applications skew heavily towards Apple, I have no doubt that many Android and Microsoft Surface versions will soon be appearing.
Retailers are discovering the benefits of tablet-based customer service - employees who walk around the store and ring up sales, customers who kick the tires in the store while simultaneously checking prices online and then pay for the products themselves at tablet-based self-checkout kiosks. In October 2012, we officially began to say goodbye to the cash register.
Of course, it will take time for all of this to happen - at least a few years. But if you're looking to make long-term investments, consider that the world of technology has changed enormously ... the old guard is no longer in charge. And one day you'll tell your grandkids that it all started happening in October 2012.
Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsized businesses.
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