A YFNCG reader submitted an interesting question the other day via the contact page:
How have you found the new “iPad/iPhone era” affecting your support business as more people use these mobile computing devices vs. PCs/laptops?
It’s a great question and one that I thought deserved a blog post, since I’m sure the issue has been on the minds of other consultants lately as well. I’ve heard questions similar to this asked of me by friends and family. It also has a tenancy to pop up on discussion forums from time to time. It’s no wonder this is on our minds as the answer to this question has implications for the very future of our livelihoods.
Personally, my business has not been affected much by the move towards mobile computing. All of my customers call me to fix their desktop or laptop PCs. If anything, my business has grown because people have more of these computing devices in their home than ever before. I rarely have a client that has only one PC in their household. As prices for these devices drop, more of them are being purchased. People are also relying on them more for important things in their lives like shopping, paying bills, and running businesses. This means that more than ever before people need their computers to be working and running reliably. I don’t see that fundamental fact changing anytime soon.
As for tablet computers in general, I must admit the popularity of the iPad totally caught me off guard. I was quick to scoff at the viability of what I saw as basically an overgrown iPod Touch. But then I got my hands on one and slowly began to figure out that the form factor and interface really opened the door to a whole new world of computing. Still, I’m not worried about these devices making my job irrelevant.
I don’t even currently advertise support for tablets or smart phones for three reasons:
- These are pretty straightforward devices. They either work or they don’t, and when they stop working it’s normally a hardware issue that is better handled by the manufacturer.
- There are so many different mobile OS’s out there (IOS, Android, Windows 7, Blackberry, Symbian) that I don’t have the time to spend learning them all.
- The majority of issues my customers have regarding smart phones and tablets are between the device and the home PC. Since I support PCs, this is a natural extension of that. Other than that, I don’t get requests for support for mobile devices on their own.
I’m not saying I wont focus on these devices in the future. But right now I don’t see the need to include them in my list of services. I have noticed that more of my customers are using smartphones and tablets, but these devices are not replacing their desktops and laptops. Rather these mobile devices are supplemental to their home computer system. The functionality and power to replace a laptop or desktop is not quite here yet in the ultra-mobile computing world. I don’t see smart phones and tablets replacing desktop and laptops anytime soon. What I see is a future where both types of devices co-exist.
No one can predict the future though. Playing the game of fortune teller is normally a loosing battle, so I like to stay focused on the present. That doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the latest trends and advances in bleeding edge technology. But that shouldn’t be the focus of ones time and energy. The specter of future technological shifts shouldn’t prevent anyone from continuing with a business model that is viable today. The fact is the majority of people use a desktop or laptop PC as their primary computing device. The computer consulting industry is as booming now as it ever was. I’m shocked at the amount of consultants serving my local area, and yet there are still new customers for me to serve.
The key here is flexibility. If trends shift, we consultants need to make sure our business is lean enough to shift as well. Though technology moves quickly, adoption of that techology by the masses moves much more slowly and noticeably. This will give you as a consultant enough time to train yourself on new technology and add those services into your portfolio.
Flexibility also means having room to experiment. If you feel the tech seas changing, try adding some new services to see if they take hold. If so, you may be the first shop in your neighborhood to offer that service. If no one is interested, no problem, you didn’t dive in head first so you’re able to get out of the pool before any damage is done.
There is no more flexible a position to be in than a one man company. That’s the beauty of being a solo computer consultant and why I plan on staying that way. I have a base of customers still relying on tech I mastered years ago. Because I keep abreast of the trends and experiment with the latest stuff on my own time, when my customers start asking me about it in the future, I’ll be ready. Being a one man show, if I ever feel I need to shift my focus to a completely different area, I can do so without needing to retrain my staff or overhaul my business.
Maybe the home PC and/or laptop may someday be replaced by tablets and smart phones. That’s not the case right now, but if and when it does happen, it wont stop businesses and technology users from needing help from experts who spend their lives emerged in tech. Our focus as consultants may shift from hardware to software to cloud services to whatever the next wave is, but as long as we continue to be experts in our fields, the customers will be there.
Now I’d like to ask this same question of my readers: Have you been affected by the increased popularity of mobile computing devices?