When CDN’s editorial team met to discuss its choices for top newsmakers in 2011, there was little disagreement on what the top issue of the year was: the alleged, and greatly exaggerated, death of the PC.
Vendors with a vested interest and pundits paid to predict the future (usually without much success) continue to insist the personal computer is going the way of the floppy drive and eight-track cassettes, what with the coming wave of netbooks, no, wait, tablets, the tablet revolution. Yet still, the PC is sticking around. And now there’s more data to support that hypothesis.
For example, research firm IDC Corp. is forecasting a strong second half of 2012 for the worldwide PC market. While long-term the days of double-digit growth are likely over, what with the PC market being fairly mature and now just in a natural refresh cycle mode, IDC is still forecasting five per cent growth in worldwide PC shipments in 2012. Most of the growth will come in the second half of the year, with the launch of Microsoft’s new Windows 8 OS.
As IDC notes, tablets like Apple’s iPad will be complementing PCs, not replacing them.
“Many consumers are holding off making PC purchases at the moment because tablet devices like Apple's iPad are proving to be a powerful distraction,” said Bob O'Donnell, vice-president of clients and displays at IDC. “However, end user surveys tell us that few people consider media tablets as replacements for their PCs, so later this year when there is a new Microsoft operating system, available in sleek new PC form factors, we believe consumer interest in PCs will begin to rebound.”
The view is similar from rival research firm Gartner Inc., which is forecasting a 4.4 per cent increase in PC shipments worldwide in 2012. Gartner sees pent-up demand as purchases put off during the economic downturn can be delayed no longer, and the potential for excitement to be created around Windows 8 and the new ultrabook laptop form factor that Intel is pushing. And emerging markets will likely be the growth-drivers.
“Emerging markets are key to driving worldwide PC growth in both the short and long-term, and our expectation is that 2012 and then 2013 onwards will be supported by growth in emerging markets as their share increases from just over 50 per cent in 2011 to nearly 70 per cent in 2016,” said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner. “Emerging markets have very low PC penetration and even with the availability of other devices we still expect a steady uptake of PCs.”
So, what’s it all mean? Well, no one is suggesting the PC market isn’t challenged. For one, it’s highly commoditized. Vendors and partners aren’t making much money from selling desktops and laptops — the money is in the accompanying software and services. Second, with cloud computing and increasingly powerful endpoints such as tablets and smartphones, some traditional PC tasks are shifting to other endpoints. And third, the market is quite mature: with the exception of some emerging markets, there’s little greenfield left. It’s mainly a matter of refresh and upgrade every few years.
All that said, PCs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon either. For the foreseeable future they’ll remain the hub of most people’s digital worlds. Far from seeing device convergence (remember when that was a thing?), we’ll own an assortment of devices and the PC will serve as the anchor of our digital universe, for both consumers and businesses.
If we do start to see any signs of death though, we’ll be sure to let you know.
Follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter: @JeffJedrasCDN.