The PC: Not Dead, But No Longer Dominant Either

    The PC is not dead. There, I said it.

    But at the risk of seeming incongruous, let me also add that the enterprise is, in fact, heading into a post-PC era as everything from thin clients to tablets and smartphones will vie for the right to put users in touch with the digital universe.

    How do I manage to square this circle? Read on for a brief tour of where the PC market is right now and where it is likely to go from here.

    First, we have the latest concession from a top PC manufacturer that sales are indeed slipping and are not likely to return to pre-mobile levels, well, ever. Dell’s recent SEC filing spelled out in pretty plain language that decreasing revenue is now a staple for both PCs and notebooks and that the bottom isn’t even in sight yet. This trend is mirrored in the lackluster response to Windows 8 and even a slowdown in Windows 7 upgrades – clear signs that users are not all that interested in maintaining the latest and greatest desktop environments anymore. These uncomfortable truths could cause problems for Michael Dell’s quest to take the company private, considering increased investment in PC development seems to be one of his goals.

    Estimates for the broader PC market aren’t likely to help PC makers sleep better at night either. Gartner’s latest projections are for a relatively healthy 4.1 percent increase in overall IT spending over the next two years, but PC sales are expected to flatline at best. Sales of “devices” in general, however, are looking very good: up nearly 8 percent to $718 billion, representing nearly 20 percent of the total IT spend. Meanwhile, IDC expects PCs to drop from about 30 percent of the device market today to about 17 percent in 2017.

    When a technology sector, particularly one that literally defined the digital age for so many years, faces this kind of decline, a wee bit of overreaction is understandable. A perfect example is venture capitalist Scott Weiss, whose job, in all fairness, is to identify future trends, not aging ones. He recently lamented not just the demise of the PC but the entire ecosystem that supports it, including servers. In his view, everything from silicon chips to advanced software platforms is doomed unless they can make the transition to mobile infrastructure, service-oriented platforms or whatever else comes along as The Next Big Thing.

    This mindset is clearly taking hold in IT executive suites around the world. Deloitte Consulting says decision makers should already be moving past the “mobile first” attitude to “mobile only.” In an age when mobile app downloads are counted in the billions and Internet traffic is increasingly generated by mobile devices, enterprises that do not quickly adapt to the new reality will find themselves left behind, not only by customers and competitors but by their own workers.

    All of this is true, mind you, but it still does not support the notion that the PC is dead – if by “dead” you mean of no value whatsoever to anyone or anything ever again. It would be more accurate to describe the PC as not dead, but not dominant either. With changing work patterns and always-on data access, mobile devices have clearly taken the lead role in the way most people live, work and communicate. But the PC will continue to provide a robust platform for more intensive data applications like word processing, graphic design and database manipulation.

    Bold headlines with the words “PC” and “Dead” will continue to draw eyeballs, but hyperbole aside, the rise of mobile technology marks an even more significant development: the fragmentation of data applications and environments and the end to the one-platform-fits-all approach to hardware development.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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