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The Death of the PC?

Created: 13 May 2013
Joe G.'s picture
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Ever since the introduction, and general take-up of the tablet, it has been speculated that the death of the PC is nigh. But is this the case? According to IDC, global PC sales fell 13.9% in Q1 2013, accelerating the drop of 8.3% in Q4 2012. Certainly less are being sold, and for this there are many reasons.

A fundamental reason for this, and I believe we’ll be seeing this very shortly with smartphones and tablets, is that PCs have become like ‘white goods’. You don’t throw away your fridge or cooker when a new model comes out, and the same has become the case with the PC. Given the slowdown of processor improvements, and how well Windows 7 runs on older machines, consumers are no longer buying a new PC every couple of years to keep up. RAM is still very cheap and given the prevalence of 64bit Windows 7, it’s easy to put in another 4 or 8GB of RAM to improve performance.

Another reason for keeping an aging machine is cloud services. If you don’t want to install a single app locally, you probably don’t need to. Basic functions are built into the operating system, and you can do the vast majority of your tasks online. Email, music, photo editing, storage, unzip, read PDFs, etc., it’s unlimited. You can just use a browser for 90% of your tasks and you don’t need a powerful machine.

Games consoles are also nibbling away at PCs in the consumer space. Where you might have bought a desktop PC to game on, you could well just get a console. Most games are ported from one platform to the other, and the advantage of a console under the TV is that it could double as a BluRay player.

PC gaming is huge, but most PC gamers are competent at upgrading just the bits of their PC, typically graphics cards and RAM and probably wouldn’t buy a whole new PC.

In the enterprise, the appetite to replace PCs so often also has slowed. Given how easy it is to get IT staff to keep everyone happy by adding RAM as opposed to a PC refresh, why wouldn’t you make that call. Especially when your director is bending your ear about mobility & BYOD and expecting results.

Add application streaming into the mix. Finally, WANs and LANs are in a great position to support this very viable alternatives that has been available for a while, but with limited uptake. Applications follow the user in a lightweight format, streaming only what is needed, and thus you don’t need cutting edge hardware or large hard disks.

‘Thin’ applications offer yet another alternative to a fat client on desktops, where the processing is all done server-side, enabling companies to use ‘thin clients’ on desktops. These thin apps have become even more popular in this day and age of mobility, where we are using mobile networks heavily and sometimes running up against signal issues.

I mentioned cloud applications in the consumer space- they are also very popular in the enterprise now. Companies are actively trying to avoid on-premise installs, and moving away from running data-centres where possible.

So, the PC is doomed, right? I’m not so sure. There are tasks you can perform very easily on a desktop/ laptop, that you’d struggle to do on a tablet/ smartphone. Type this blog for example. Sure, you can get a keyboard that doubles as a case, but they’re not cheap, and still aren’t full size. Performing any kind of graphical, music or video editing where mouse precision and a big screen are important is another.

To this end, software vendors such as Symantec, are having to adapt to the coming times- it’s becoming less about the traditional PC and more about mobile platforms such as phones, tablets and maybe even Google Glass. Data loss prevention will, of course, remain a focus as well as the critical systems that are the beating heart of cloud services

So, to stretch an analogy- when the bicycle was invented, the horse didn’t die out. When the car and motorbikes came along, the bicycle didn’t die. They co-existed, and the one being replaced became more of a niche use time. In this way, I think PCs will be ‘replaced’ by tablets and smartphones, but will still occupy a happy corner where it will be still be king, just over a smaller kingdom.