Enough Already With The "Death Of The PC Era" Garbage

(updated 10:10 ET 4/11/2013 for clarity)

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% of global information workers use 3 or more devices for work. Computers (often two of them) are front and center in this statistic.
  • Computers wear out. Just as cars and shoes and dishwashers do. Intel & 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. But even without this planned obsolescence, computers get tired.
  • People want the best tool for the job. Typing a blog, running a spreadsheet model, creating a presentation, closing the books, surfing the Internet are all (still) easier on a computer than a tablet, LapPhablet, smartphone, or TV. (Though checking for rain showers with Dark Skies or playing Words with Friends is better on a mobile device.)
  • More 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 obsoleccense are fading away. Most applications "run" on most computers. So the old computer will just last longer.
  • People will buy new computers when they just want to or can't live with the old one any longer. The average replacement cycle may be 6 years instead of 4 years in the home and 4 years instead of 3 years at work. But a new kind of 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.

The analysis says:

  • 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.
  • The 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.

Source: http://thesalmonfarm.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/uploads/2011/08/Photo-110815-134418.jpg


"Right Tool For The Job" Era

I like the notion of the "right tool for the job" era, Ted. It's clear that workers and consumers are making what I call "device hand-offs," allowing them to (A) Choose the right device, contextually, for the job they want to do at a specific time/place, and (B) To continue iterating their computing experience across multiple devices.

EXAMPLE: (Think iCloud or SkyDrive) As a worker, I can (1) start the creation of a document on my PC or Mac, (2) read the same draft later on my smartphone while waiting in line to get lunch, (3) make edits later at home on the couch on my tablet, and then (4) share the document with a variety of co-workers from any of my devices. I have iterated across multiple devices on multiple occasions to accomplish my work goal.

Finally, we have shown in our data that PCs and tablets are diverging, contextually. Some tasks are better (as you rightly point out) on a PC, while others are finding uptake on tablets. Readers can see this data in these two blog posts:



Apt description

First, don't let the HP on my company fool you, I am an enterprise software guy. What I find fascinating is that when a new device enters the ecosystem, the removal of another device is rarely the case. Enterprises still have to use faxes, well after better alternatives have been around. Secretaries of State often require fax transmittals. So, when a new device enters the ecosystem, the burdens on enterprise IT are increased, not shifted or lessened.

This is probably the most articulate communication of these sentiments that I have seen. I love the device handoffs, and it takes a very forward thinking enterprise to volunteer for the big and bold work of making that happen. When it works at work, the employees can do amazing things. When it works at home, people can buy stuff whilst they watch TV.

Thanks. Device hand-offs

Thanks. Device hand-offs present a challenge in a legacy context (or so we find when talking to CIOs and Infrastructure pros) -- legacy apps, systems, and devices. But more quickly than one would have imagined, these hand-offs are happening. I would note, too, that Google is heading toward this direction in Chrome (browser, OS) -- users sign in to the browser and get access to apps and bookmarks. On some level, this is the ultimate device hand-off to any device that supports Chrome browser!

Indicative of a subtle shift from edge to network

I agree with the observation. But symptom we're observing is the shift away from all of the computing being done by individually-owned devices at the edge of the network. It's a shift to more devices partially/entirely relying on other computing resources elsewhere, hence they don't have to be general purpose (hence the right tool for the right job). The PC won't die. But its functions are being distributed elsewhere.

Hi Ted, easy to agree with

Hi Ted, easy to agree with your assessment. One perspective to add is the "investor". If you are making financial bets on the "device market", clearly there are new winners and old losers. So, in some way, the losers are "dead" money and the winners are positioned for growth. At least the old guard had a very long run, now we can watch to see if they can transition their business models. Not easy!

Agreed, and investors matter . . . a lot!

When investors lose confidence, so do customers. So a flight of capital away from industrial PC companies changes their ability to attract talent, invest their own capital, and attract new customers.

I do believe that Microsoft will need to have its "mainframe" moment real soon now. IBM made it through, though not without angst and a change of leadership.

Thoughts for a follow up post embedded here.

PC won't go away...

The PC won't go away, because it won't go away? Nice analysis.

very bad analysis - many tables have better hardware than old xp

The issue is more about software's. PC will fade away we don't need those boxes or tower unless u want to build a media or game development pc

I can name a dozen programs I

I can name a dozen programs I run at least 2-3 times per week that will likely never work from a tablet. Anything requiring intensive keyboard entry, is another thing. Simplest scenario number 1: Can you imagine writing a decent-length term paper on a tablet? Every college student (and many high school students) has to go through that multiple times throughout their education. Digital artists need LARGE high resolution monitors. The list goes on and on.

Tablets certainly meet 90% of MOST people's basic computing needs... and probably meet 100% for some (a MUCH smaller number, however). There are a LOT of people out there who have more than merely "basic" computing needs, however.

I respectfully disagree

PCs will not fade away if they serve an essential purpose. A tablet can't replace a beautiful all-in-one like an iMac or Dell XPS that's designed for a public space in a house. But we can certainly agree to disagree.

But "very bad analysis?" Really, Frank (at) hotmail. Can I ask you to please provide at least some analysis to support your view and not just give your opinion?

Thank you,

Half Right

yes, desktop/laptop computers are not going to disappear. enterprise needs them.

but their sales will shrink permanently to about 50% of the recent peak. because most consumers don't need them.

whatever you call it, that's a huge change. yes, and a new era.

"Consumers don't need them"?

"Consumers don't need them"? I don't know any high school or college student who doesn't have at least a laptop. Certainly, the demise of the PC is greatly exaggerated.

"Computers wear out just like

"Computers wear out just like cars" is completely wrong!
they slow down over time due to the crap that is installed and downloaded and need reformatting to get back to optimum operation or maybe you will need to replace your hdd which is the only moving part on a pc.
As far as becoming out of date... if you bought a computer 10 years ago to do a job and its still doing it there is no need to replace it altogether if at all.
Only when your circumstances change that you need to move into an area of computing that is not accommodated by your current setup will you need to change and thats more on the business side than the consumer.
Busnesses will be the life blood of the pc market with the development of new technology and services for the consumer whcih will translate down slower to pc sales on the consumer level.