Based on a lot of reading and listening to people like Clay Christenson and Horace Dediu I've a few observations concerning the current transformation of the PC market, Apple, Android and tablets.
For many years the PC combined with Microsoft Office were the defacto computing standard. This combination was a product of their time between analog and digital eras. Office is made up of three main components: Word, Excel and Powerpoint.
Word is the cornerstone of the Office suite for most people. But just looking at the current interface for Word, one thing jumps out immediately: it is a product designed to use your computer to produce pages containing information. At the beginning of the PC era, this was a key factor as the electronic exchange with anyone outside of your immediate computing circle still required an analog phase, either in the form of paper or a fax. So it made perfect sense that we built tools that facilitated the bridge between the two worlds. But things have changed in the intervening 20 years, and now Word's primary use (outside of slow moving enterprises, government and education institutions) is a convenient container for transferring information via email. The frustrating part is that it comes along with all of this historical page oriented metadata and associated structure that the page metaphor imposes.
From a practical standpoint, the majority of data entered into Word today is not destined to paper, but some form of electronic transfer or storage.
In addition, computers are no longer rare items, relegated to specialists, like the typing pool where the first inroads started with word processing systems. In most developed nations, the majority of the population have access to some kind of computing device, whether a full fledged PC, tablet or smartphone. This has demoted the importance of the paper document or the paper metaphor for sharing information. The most current widely accepted container for sharing information now is the web page, static or dynamic. Even ePub is nothing more than a packaged web site. With the advent of web applications like blogs and wikis, we can now write, store and share information in a structure adapted for the end-to-end digital toolkit that sheds the need for concepts like headers, footers, margins, page breaks and so on. Purpose-built applications with a web and a local client enable optimized authoring and consumption completely outside of a document or file based ecosystem. The bottom line here is that Word's value has diminished and is becoming increasingly irrelevant for those people ready to embrace a modern toolkit.
In the beginning (said in stentorian tones), Powerpoint's role was very similar to Word. It was designed to facilitate a bridge between the digital and analog worlds. Presentations were not yet done using digital projectors, but rather using 35mm slides and overhead projectors with transparencies. With the inevitable audience handouts... on paper.
The advent of ubiquitous projectors changed the role of Powerpoint somewhat and the omnipresence of Office permitted it to become the defacto container for sharing presentations, but always in the context of a document object. To this day, I attend meetings where slides are projected, yet every participant is given paper handouts to follow along with.
In this area we see a slower movement towards better tools designed for the all digital lifesyle, but Powerpoint has succesfully transitioned it's job to be done from preparing overheads and 35mm slides to projecting a predominantly static content to an audience.
But we are starting to see changes here where the job to be done is less pure presentation to a passive audience to interactive meetings where the audience participates and drives the content with questions. Products like Roambi and Perspective which are currently tablet only are better adapted to a collaborative presentation or meeting tool.
Excel remains the tool best positioned to live in this new age. Its links and dependencies with the analog world are considerably weaker than its brethren as the job to be done is processing information. Communicating the data is usually done with separate pages containing graphs or report tables optimized for print or being copied into other documents.
In this case, Excel's job to be done will change very little and still has considerable value that other systems have yet to reproduce at the desktop. On the other hand, much of the heavy lifting of Excel can (and often should) be replaced by server-side tools that can offer better shared access to information, more reliable availability and backups.
Presenting and sharing Excel driven data currently done via OLE and copy/paste is accomplished more efficiently and with more value using the tools noted in the Powerpoint section. But as a backend for interpretation and analysis, Excel continues to offer real value to its users.
Where do we go from here?
The consequences are being played out in the market right now where it would appear that the traditional PC, desktop or notebook is a market that has peaked and is now starting its slow decline. Like any evolutionary platform change, this will not be immediate or quick and will play out over at least a decade. During this period I predict that the mass of computing will move to systems that are deemed good enough for most people, but that drive expert users crazy.
Currently, the driver for this change is predominantly the iPad. Possibly the most interesting thing about the iPad is that is has managed to become as big as it has without Microsoft Office. Granted that there is a level of reasonable compatibility for reading Office documents, but it exists outside of the fully compatible round trip environment deemed essential and necessary by so many.
Perhaps the jobs we hired Office to do for do many years are no longer the jobs that need to be done today?