Are reports of the PC’s imminent demise greatly exaggerated? Well, it depends on what you mean by “greatly.”
On the one hand, it is clear that the PC as a business tool still has a long shelf-life ahead of it. But it is equally true that it is no longer king of the castle as far as user access to the data universe is concerned. And in that vein, the PC will have to learn to share the affections of the modern knowledge worker with an increasingly diverse hardware market populated by smartphones, tablets and whatever else comes along.
The proof is in the market numbers. According to IDC, global PC shipments fell 3.7 percent in 2012, driven largely by an 8.3 percent drop in the fourth quarter — the largest holiday-period decline in market history. 2013 should be a little better, however. IDC expects only a 1.3 percent decline, but it nonetheless indicates that PC sales have hit the skids and will continue to struggle with soft market conditions for some time.
Part of the problem is that the PC has become too reliable, according to Information Age’s Kane Fulton. In the old days, each new processor or software generation brought new capabilities that would dramatically improve business processes and productivity. In the modern era, much of that dynamism has transitioned to the mobile industry, so much so that even a five-year-old PC is still capable of providing adequate service for workers who don’t need to be on the go. So it’s not that the PC doesn’t have a role to play in the enterprise anymore, it’s just that there is not as much urgency to upgrade to the latest and greatest platforms on a regular basis.
To a large extent, this is a consequence of the direction the operating system has taken, say NewsFactor Network’s Scott Martin and Jon Swartz. PC sales traditionally saw a healthy bump following each new Windows release — due in part to the fact that memory and processing capabilities needed a significant boost to handle it. Starting with Vista and continuing through Windows 8, that hasn’t happened, as Microsoft has managed to keep a lid on the system requirements and has geared the user interface to function equally well on the PC and mobile device.
Of course, this isn’t bad news for everything related to the PC. Apple’s OS X platform, for example, is seeing a resurgence in enterprise activity precisely because the company has been so successful in getting its mobile devices into the hands of business users. In fact, Gartner is on the verge of giving OS X equal footing with Windows as an enterprise tool now that numerous third-party applications for functions like automated backup, application/device management and business productivity are hitting the channel.
Traditionalists, then, should not lament the fate of the PC. It will still be around for a while longer. However, the economics behind the manufacture, distribution and sale of desktop hardware are now radically different from the heyday in the 1980s and 1990s. But ultimately, that will be a net gain for the enterprise because it means access to data is diversifying, and the ability to maintain user productivity will become cheaper and more resilient.