The PC has been around for so long that we often take it for granted much like we do electricity or phone service. Walk into nearly any business today and you’ll find nearly every employee working at a computer. Few office tools have ever been so good at so many tasks as the PC.
But the PC is on the decline. Or it’s about to be replaced by sexier tablets. Some even say it’s dead. Those are strong opinions about a device that sold over 315 million units in 2013. That’s an enormous number, but it’s down from over 350 million units sold in 2012, and therein lies the problem: sales are heading in the wrong direction.
There are a number of market factors resulting in decreased sales including the rise of tablets, which have certainly cut into lower cost PC sales. But it’s not the only factor. Both consumers and businesses have been less enthused about Windows 8. Many are perfectly happy with Windows 7 and see no reason to upgrade. That may not sound like much, but it results in buyers holding on to their PCs for a longer period of time as new versions of Windows trigger new computer sales.
We can debate whether PC sales will continue to slump or not, but that’s not the point of this article. Instead, I’d like to take a look at a few areas where I expect PC sales to remain strong and even grow.
As part of my day job with Puget Systems, each day I speak with customers who recently purchased a custom computer. Over the past three years I’ve been working with customers, I’ve seen less interest in low-cost, general-purpose computers. These computers usually cost less than $750, and are not built for a specific purpose, such as gaming or video production. Their owners seldom upgrade their components or operating system. They are often used to access email and browse the web, which makes them prime targets to be replaced by tablets such as the iPad, which also excels at those tasks.
I’ve seen this first hand with my own children, who prefer to browse Pinterest, watch YouTube videos, or play Flappy Bird on an iPad instead of login to an open Windows PC. Minecraft is the one game that draws them to the PC, but that’s quickly being replaced by a version available on the Xbox.
But there are a number of areas where a tablet doesn’t cut it, and the PC is still king. Here are three of them.
Gamers upgrade their computers more than any other group, and they typically need high-end components in order to play the latest games. While they often don’t require the fastest processors, they do need fast 3D graphics cards from companies like NVIDIA and AMD. Gamers also embraced SSDs before others recognized their benefits, such as fast boot times. While tablets are getting more powerful, they still can’t provide the high resolution, multiple monitor experience gamers demand. The processors and graphics cards simply run too hot in order to accommodate a tablet chassis today. Casual games such as Angry Birds have found an audience on tablets where the graphic requirements are much lower. Gamers are often first to embrace new technologies which means they will continue to prefer the PC as long as companies like Intel and NVIDIA bring innovative products to market that make games an even more immersive experience.
We are now talking workstation grade PCs used by engineers, video professionals and audio engineers. These systems are built with the most reliable workstation-grade components such as Intel Xeon processors, ECC memory, and Quadro or FirePro graphic cards. Even Apple continues to address this market with the Mac Pro.
This market continues to grow at a good pace year over year. The software is becoming more affordable as well with companies like Adobe offering their suite of products for a monthly fee. The software is often tailored to the hardware so pairing Adobe Premiere with an approved graphics card can drastically increase performance. This flexibility in components is key for professionals and plays to the strengths of the PC.
High Performance Computing
Scientists, engineers and developers use HPCs to solve the world’s most demanding computational problems. They too often require very specific hardware and software that are tailored to the task at hand such as NVIDIA Tesla or Intel Phi cards. I recently spoke with a customer who uses an HPC to model weather around the globe in order to predict natural disasters and where they might occur.
It wasn’t long ago that universities and labs owned most HPCs due to their high costs. But as HPCs begin to trickle into the hands of individuals, we can expect more breakthroughs in science, math, and medicine.
These are just a few areas where PCs continue to thrive, and anyone who says the PC is dead just isn’t paying attention. Yes it’s very possible that PC sales have peaked. Tablets are easy to use and affordable, and will continue to chew away are the market for cheap PCs.
But the PC is resilient. It’s still the business tool of choice for many, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
Top photo credit: Luke via Wikimedia.