The PC Era Is Far From Over

Tablets and smartphones are all the rage today, leading many to conclude that the time of the personal computer is just about over, if not already finished.  According to analytics provider IHS, global shipments of personal computers are set to decline in 2012 for the first time in 11 years.


A careful review of the data, however, suggests that things are not all doom and gloom.  The decline represents a 1.2% reduction in shipments from 2011 to 2012 (from 352.8 million units down to 348.7 million units).  On the other hand, IDC shows a projection through 2016 that shows the desktop market remaining pretty, even as growth continues for mobile devices (meaning tablets, smartphones and similar form factors).

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Yes, mobile device consumption is growing, but only a tiny percentage of business users or consumers are actually replacing their PCs with mobile devices.  Most of the people who purchase tablets and smartphones are doing so to complement, not replace, their existing computing devices.

Beyond the cool factor of mobile devices, especially tablets, they are very helpful when it comes to data consumption.  For example, I thoroughly enjoy reading books and perusing mobile-ready websites on my tablet, while I find it somewhat less enjoyable on a smartphone for any length of time.  With the right applications and tools, it is even possible to get a fair amount of work done from a mobile device, although most people will agree that laptops and desktops will be faster.

When it comes to content creation and data manipulation, however, full featured PCs and laptops still rule.  The creation and manipulation of video, audio and graphics simply requires computing power that is not currently available in a 10” or 7” form factor, to say nothing of multiple monitors and specialized input devices.  Similarly, jobs like software development, network monitoring, long document creation, and number crunching, are far better accomplished with a PC today.

I have, on occasion, performed emergency network administration via a tablet. (I’ve even done it via a phone – once.)  It’s just not the sort of thing that most people will want to attempt of a regular basis – not even with a small network.

The aforementioned PC-friendly tasks are not going away anytime soon hence the PC is not going away anytime soon.  PCs provide you with more power, larger storage, greater input options, greater output options, and better data/content creation capability. And, PCs are simply more cost effective for most computing uses: less portable, generally speaking, but certainly far more cost effective from a price/power perspective.

Does everyone need a PC?  No.

Does everyone need the full power provided by even today’s mid-range PC?  No.

There are quite a number of people who primarily consume content and will find that they can get by without a PC or laptop (or, at least, without a new PC/laptop).  But, for the next few years, most people who even bother to obtain mobile technologies will simply use their different devices for different roles based on the equipment’s suitability.

As often as we hear that technology A will make technology B obsolete, the truth is that both technologies often co-exist for many years – sometimes as long as a decade.  We are at least 3-4 years away from the place where battery life for tablets under full load can be measured in days, and where power and input capabilities will improve to rival PCs.  And these have to be in place before the demise of the PC can be assured.

It took laptops a very long time before they could be considered desktop replacements, and even today, most people don’t purchase laptops to replace desktops because there are still compromises inherent in the decision.  This is even truer for tablets vs desktops than it has been for laptops vs desktops.

Even as PC growth is diminishing in many mature markets, it continues to grow in the emerging markets like South America, China and Africa, because of affordability. Every technology improvement that makes mobile computers more affordable also makes PCs even more affordable, which is a key consideration for the emerging markets.

Because of the growth of mobile, we can expect that people will replace their PCs less frequently than in times past. PCs that were previously replaced every 3 or 4 years might see extended use for 5 or 6 years.  Also, the number of PCs per household will begin to diminish over time. But, given the significant number of PCs in operation today, the roles they continue to excel in, and the fairly large number which shipped just this past year, PCs are going to remain viable computing workhorses for many years to come.

Andrew BakerAndrew S. Baker is the president and founder of BrainWave Consulting Company, LLC where he provides Virtual CIO services for small/medium businesses.  See Andrew’s complete social presence at\AndrewBaker

Tags: Technology