Long Live the Desktop Computer

Carl Weinschenk
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Top 10 Mobile Technologies and Capabilities for 2015 and 2016

The desktop computer, PC or Mac, has been under onslaught from phablets, tablets, smartphones and other devices. It’s dead, a relic of an important but antiquated stage in the evolution of communications technology. An office-bound piece of gear can’t hope to survive in a world of powerful mobile devices that serve narrow and well-defined use cases.

That’s the common opinion. As often is the case, it is not completely wrong, nor is it completely accurate.

The accurate element is that PC sales are down, and have been for a long time. It is unfair to say, however, that the form factor is close to extinction. Like many other long-in-the-tooth technologies, PCs have to adjust to a new landscape in which they share the limelight with newer approaches.

The upshot from a Techaisle report, which explored the opinions of 820 businesses with 1,000 or fewer employees, is that the emphasis is on ubiquitous computing. The type of device and the operating system is irrelevant. InformationWeek’s Kevin Casey paraphrases Techaisle analyst Anurag Agrawal’s vision of the new landscape:

This doesn't mean the PC is dying, though -- far from it. Although tablets are certainly a factor in flat PC sales, the idea that they're murdering the PC overshoots the mark. Agrawal points out that PC manufacturers still move about 300 million units per year worldwide.

That number might seem meager when stacked next to the explosive growth percentages of recent mobile device sales, but he notes that smartphones in particular are subject to shorter refresh cycles driven largely by wireless carrier contracts.

The report ends on an odd and encouraging note, from the point of view of PC makers: Agrawal says there actually is a “surge” among companies with 100 to more than 500 employees.  

Apple apparently gets the message that desktop devices (Macs, in this case) have a significant but limited role. ZDNet’s Ed Bott reports on the strategy behind OS X Yosemite, which was discussed at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference last week in San Francisco. Bott writes that the size of the PC industry still dwarfs Apple’s sales, and that iPad sales still dwarf Mac sales. Thus, strategy sort of writes itself: The new version of the Mac OS must play nice with Apple’s mobile devices:

Given those numbers, it's no wonder that many of the new features Apple announced for OS X Yosemite, due this fall, aren't PC features at all but are designed to make those Macs work better with Apple's mobile devices—like the ability to send and receive phone calls and messages on a Mac connected to an iPhone.

In addition to repositioning, the PC that we know and (sometimes) love is getting a makeover, at least in one obvious way. TechTimes reported today that Intel is planning a wireless PC. The new device is to be ready by 2016. Not only will the cables between the display, keyboard, CPU and peripherals be dispatched, but electricity also will be provided wirelessly. The idea, according to writer Vamien McKalin, is that something will plug into the wall, and that something will send the juice to the PC sans wires.

One of the oft-repeated phrases of the past few years is “the PC is dead.” It’s not surprising that people would assume so after seeing the explosive numbers and exotic capabilities of continually emerging mobile devices. The truth is more nuanced: The PC lives, remains important and is adapting to a more limited role.

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