Why PCs are here to stay

Like cars and shoes and dishwashers, PCs won't go away any time soon. Shipment numbers may decline, but here's why few people will abandon their computers altogether.

Forrester Research 

The death of the PC era. Pah.

As my friend John McCarthy is fond of saying, "that does not qualify as analysis." PCs, like cars and shoes and dishwashers, are here to stay. However, it is true that PC shipment numbers will decline or be stagnant as people fill out their multi-device toolkits. And some markets may never see the personal computer dominate as it has done in the industrial nations. But few people will abandon their computers altogether.

Let's start with some data and facts:

  • Two thirds of US consumers go online from 2 or more devices, including multiple computers in many cases.
  • 53 per cent of global information workers use 3 or more devices for work. Computers (often two of them) are front and centre in this statistic.
  • Computers wear out. Just as cars and shoes and dishwashers do. Intel and Microsoft brilliantly played a planned obsolescence game for decades: Bigger software needed bigger chips, which ran bigger software. Intel & Microsoft made billions. People got better tools.
  • People want the best tool for the job. Typing a blog, running a spread sheet model, creating a presentation, surfing the Internet are all (still) easier on a computer than a tablet, lapphablet, smartphone, or TV. (Though checking for coming rain showers with Dark Skies or playing Words with Friends is better on a mobile device.)
  • People can afford to buy the best tool for the job as the cost of computing continues to plummet.

In each one of these things lies a structural reason why PC shipments (not installed base) are down and will continue to fall for a while:

  • At any moment in time, people will buy the device they need most at that moment. Today, that's tablets and smartphones not computers.
  • People don't usually need to buy new computers to run new applications. The days of Intel/Microsoft planned obsolescence are fading away. Most applications "run" on most computers.
  • People will buy new computers when they just want to or can't live with the old one any longer. The replacement cycle may be 6 years instead of 4 years in the home and 4 years instead of 3 years at work. Planned obsolescence has already come in the form of quieter or more beautiful or meeting a style need or thinner or lighter or more elegant. Just like for cars and shoes and dishwashers.

Computers don't go away; they just aren't replaced as often. There is no post-PC era. There's only a multi-device, "right tool for the job" era. Multi-device, single experience has become the competitive environment for Microsoft, Intel, AMD, Google, Apple, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, ASUS, HTC, LG, and all the rest. Not all players will survive that shift. Computers aren't going away. They'll just get better, more connected to things you care about, more agile in being the right tool or tools for the job, and more consistently integrated with other devices you own.

Ted Schadler is a Forrester analyst who serves CIOs. This article was orignally published on Forrester's blog network on April 11. 

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