Intel and the struggle for PC mind share

There was an interesting article posted by Computerworld yesterday which explores how Intel has to lead the way for a PC renaissance now that tablets and phones have distracted Microsoft. Unfortunately, this is not something Intel can easily do. To make things worse, if it plans to jump-start this agenda at this week's Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, it must compete with the roll-out of the iPhone 5 later today, which will surely dominate the headlines.

In fact, no matter what Intel says or does this week, it will be short-sheeted by the boys from Apple. I'd be a little annoyed by this if I were Intel since the two companies are partners.

"Phones and tablets have been getting the lion's share of press and Intel needs to change this," Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said in the Computerworld article. "Intel needs to show that the PC still has room to grow in advanced and forward-looking usage models. There are many problems the PC can still solve, but with Microsoft focused on thin clients and phones, it is up to Intel to carry the water."

I find this highly amusing because Patrick Moorhead was formerly vice president at AMD and used to be a major tub-thumper who complained about Intel while extolling the virtues of AMD. Now he says Intel has to carry the load for the entire PC industry, somehow.

Intel cannot carry the load; there is just not enough public relations leverage in the new economy. Plus, the consolidation of PC manufacturing has lowered the overall mind share of the PC market.

Phones get all the attention because they are competing with one another. Manufacturers have not all thrown in the towel and allowed the business to become a commodity industry. So we have Apple, Motorola, Nokia, RIM, Sony, Samsung, HTC, and dozens of emerging Chinese companies to pound the drum and steal the attention.

Once upon a time, there were loads of PC makers, too. They were all heavy advertisers and most of their ads were co-sponsored by Intel as so-called co-op deals. All the activity aroused the public and made them nutty for PCs. This created the typical consolidation problem whereby HP bought Compaq, Acer bought Gateway, and Lenovo bought Thinkpad. Pretty soon there was no one left to create a buzz, hence the doldrums we are now stuck in.

Personally, I think that the HP-Compaq merger, which had already sucked up DEC and other operations, was just plain anti-competitive. DEC and HP were traditional competitors and HP ended up buying Compaq to get DEC to shutter and eventually absorb Compaq. If this doesn't require antitrust legal action, then I do not know what does.

It wasn't only one competitor buying another, but it managed to kill the soul of a vibrant business. There was an aspect of plunder to the whole thing. So now we pay more attention to phones while pundits, who often rely on the PC for their business, talk about the death of the PC.

This harkens back to Moorhead, AMD and Intel, and the blood feud started by former Intel CEO Andy Grove. The two companies spent all their time focusing on each other, trying to get the government to pounce. If they would have focused on preventing the anti-competitive behaviour of their own customers, they would have been better off. We all would have been.

Well, it's too late now. The iPhone 5 is here!

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