1 Mar 2012

The Death of the PC

Death of the PC

Is the PC really dead? Many pundits have claimed to answer this question and they can be segregated into two camps - (1) those who believe that tablets are replacing PCs as "Post-PC" devices, and (2) those who believe tablets are merely "PC-Plus" devices. IBM, having sold their PC business to Lenovo in 2005, falls squarely in the Post-PC camp, while Microsoft is a proponent of the PC-Plus line of thought. I would say the "Post PC" camp is closer to the truth.

To explore this further, let's first take a look at the current state of the PC market. It has been a very weak year for the PC industry, and Q4 2011 has been even weaker. These figures cannot be explained away by weak macroeconomic conditions as spending on smartphones & tablets has exploded over the same time frame. In fact, these weak results can be attributed directly to spending on emerging mobile technologies instead of PCs. This trend has been even more pronounced in the consumer segment, as enterprise sales have kept PC sales relatively afloat in 2011.

How have companies been affected by these market conditions? HP & Dell have seen their revenues plunge. Dell has responded by distancing itself from the PC business and focusing on the enterprise business. HP  has pinned its hopes on Ultrabooks and Windows 8 to save this market, but as I've stated earlier, that's very unlikely. Three of the other top vendors (Lenovo, Acer & Asus) have diversified into Android Tablets and will be releasing Windows 8 tablets as well - betting on the field is usually a good idea.

Now, let's try and understand where the PC is headed. In order to do this, we need to break down the market into two segments - (1) The Consumer PC Market, (2) The Enterprise PC Market. As PC penetration levels are extremely high, both these segments really represent the replacement market.

1) The Consumer PC Market

The consumer technology industry is in the midst of the mobile revolution, and the PC has been the biggest victim. This revolution is being driven by two factors - usage patterns and price points. So what are the usage patterns of an average home PC user? Browsing, communication (email, chat, social networking), media (pictures, music, video), light word processing and possibly light picture editing. A tablet offers the same functionality, with a touch interface, at a far lower price point ($200-$600). The only disadvantage to a home user is the inability to write out long emails/text (or blog posts) on a touchscreen, but even this has been overcome with the launch of hybrid tablets with keyboard docks (true "Post PC devices" like the Asus Transformer series and similar products from Acer & Lenovo). Now, with the upcoming launches of cheaper tablets with even more processing power (new Amazon Kindle Fire, Asus Memo 370T), it is safe to say that the PC is truly dying in the consumer market.

2) The Enterprise PC Market

The enterprise market is currently somewhat of a safe haven for the PC. A lot of companies have started buying tablets, but are currently using them as "PC Plus" devices  for their mobile workforce. The enterprise market tends to be far more risk-averse than the consumer market, as usage trends depend on compatibility of legacy and productivity applications - Microsoft has pinned the future of Windows 8 on this. But tablets are taking some massive strides forward, that should start pressuring PCs soon. Both the iPad and Android tablets have good virtual machine applications, that will allow company servers to run legacy applications and run it on tablets. Ubuntu on Android has recently been released, and it offers all the functionality of both, Android and the Linux Operating System (including full Office/Productivity Applications). These two innovations should help enterprise users enter the "Post PC" era.

Conclusion - Analyzing both market segments, it's clear that consumers are driving the Post PC revolution, with the enterprise slowly making its way. It may not be too long before the PC goes the way of the dodo.


  1. The consumer PC market will not go the way of the Dodo.

    A huge amount of home users spend many hours playing games on their PC's. The power and graphic, as well as comfort, requirements cannot be met by any mobile device. They will never be met by any mobile device, as new games constantly draw extra power and resources, tablets will forever be playing catch up.

    Also consider, if you buy a top end consumer PC, you will not need to replace for several years. Granted after a few months it will fall from cutting edge to middle, and by 3 years later be in the lower 25% range of gaming machines, yet still able to run the latest games (albeit not on highest settings).

    Tablets are very new, relatively cheap, and perfect for a lot of people to invest in, during the middle of their PC cycle (ie not just just spent £1500 on a new PC and not looking too for a while yet).

    Dont get me wrong I like tablets, and they are fine for internet browsing, and playing some games on the run. They are no where near replacing my PC though which I will be buying a new hi spec version later this year.

  2. Don't get me wrong, I understand your point of view, I was a PC gamer myself. But to be honest, the proportion of home PC users that are also hardcore PC gamers is quite low. In addition, this segments being eaten up by consoles. 

    The percentage of top end PCs of total consumer PC sales is in single digits, and slowing.  Tablets now have a solution for PC gaming as well, I'd suggest you look up the Onlive app. That is truly revolutionary. This makes the hardware of your device immaterial.You are definitely not wrong to buy a high end PC, especially for gaming, but again that's not what the larger market is looking at. Give Onlive a shot, it might change your mind.

  3. the tablet is the doorway to cloud computing, hence the reason the hardware is very limited, on-board memory, a mere 64gg, when in today's market we are playing with terabytes for storage, the fact that you can get fold able keyboards,  only strengthens the claim that, the PC, is a thing of the past, the best of both worlds at a fraction of the weight, but at stomping high cost.

  4. Robbie, I'm unsure that I would agree.

    Having working in the Enterprise market since the late 80's and also been an avid PC gamer since the days of text based gaming, you will find that PC's have always been catching up with the ever increasing demands of the processing and graphic power required by games.  I recall a the title Falcon, there simply wasn't an off the shelf PC that could handle this game running with with full graphical game play.

    Regarding a 'huge amount'. Validate buddy, provide figures. Granted, there is still a large market for PC gamers but you need to break this down to games that require installation compared with those that run through say Flash without installation.  You will also need to consider time spent at the keyboard and whether this would be transferable to mobile devices.  Some play during short periods of idle time, whilst others will have their lives consumed by gaming.  I'm sorry but 'huge amount' as a blanket statement doesn't hold water for me, though I do like your faith in the trusty PC.  This reminds me of the old arguments between which is better, PC or Apple(mac), there was rarely room for cross-over.

    Usage, the very purpose of ownership of a PC has changed too and it seems to me, the PC simply does not suit today's on-the-fly world.

    I also have to agree with the article author, tablets (without the use of bolt-ons) are not suitable for large amounts of text input.  The PC has it there.  But then I'm in the Blackberry camp (*waits for a few hundred trolling responses in favour of  the company named after the 'fruit given by the devil to tempt eve'...apologies, I just can't bring myself to use the name the company more than once in a post... oh the world of the Morlock is upon us I fear *)

    Back to your post.  Again, I believe you're looking at this with blinkered vision.  A PC does need replacing annually if you're to keep up with software demands.  Sure a PC is upgradable but the reason for this is due to architecture and bus limitation, software coding and OS. 

    The bottom line is that the days of the PC are limited, in both sectors. It is a shame, because the PC has been with me my whole adult life.  As a PC fan, these are sad days indeed.

    Fair well to the PC. You have served us well.  You will be sadly missed and I'm not entirely sure the future is as bright as marketeers and designers will have us believe.

    *ctl-alt back to DOSbox and 8-bit gaming*