According to first quarter industry reports via Gartner and IDC, PC sales show a significant annual decline of 11% across the industry. Many are citing this as the latest in a long string of evidence that we are living in a post-PC era. But, what does that really mean?
The “post-PC” phrase was used as early as 2007, by Steve Jobs, when discussing the coming wave of new devices. For 25 years the personal computer was seen as a general purpose tool for all of your computing needs, but with reduced manufacturing costs it has become possible for an individual to own multiple computing devices that cover particular tasks: phone calls, gaming, content creation, entertainment and so forth. In other words, the initial purpose of post-PC devices was not to function as a replacement for the workhorse PC, but to provide alternative devices for specific work styles and use cases.
With post-PC devices in the world, users no longer have the same dependence on traditional PCs for computing. However, that is only part of the story. Here are FIVE more Reasons why PC Sales Have Dropped in the past few years:
- Since the introduction of Windows Vista in 2007, hardware requirements for a PC have adjusted to deliver a good user experience. In fact, some would argue that requirements have fallen slightly with the introduction of Windows 7 and Windows 8. The pressure to refresh all desktops every 3-4 years has increased and Moore’s Law is no longer relevant in the PC market, since very few Windows users exhaust the capabilities of their hardware.
- Some PCs are being repurposed as thin clients for desktop virtualization projects, or replaced by true thin clients. Although this is a small market compared to that of the total PC market, thin clients are completely focused on the business sector. About 5 million thin clients were sold worldwide in 2012, with a growth rate of around 12%.
- By “PC” we are of course referring to Windows computers. Macs (which are also “personal computers”) are far more numerous than they were 10 years ago and have definitely contributed to some decline in PC sales, but in the last year Mac sales have remained static at 4-5 million units a quarter.
- Windows 8 has had a cool reception and has not given the PC industry the “kick” that was needed. Details on Windows 8.1 (“Blue”) are leaking out, and rumors of “boot straight to traditional desktop” and “start menu” options aim to make Windows 8 more familiar to the Windows user base. Still, there seems to be no plan to deviate from the “tablet and desktop interface combined in one” approach Microsoft has taken.
- Surface is a 1.0 device. Although specific numbers were not released for unit shipments, it is no secret that sales of Surface have been limited. Talking with enterprise customers at MMS last week they like the potential of an iPad-like device that can run all their existing applications, and combine that capability with strong enterprise management from a vendor who understands how to sell into the enterprise. The current implementation is designed to kick-start other vendors into producing new and better devices. We can expect longer battery life, lighter devices and a slicker feel with the next generations, especially with innovations like the Haswell chipset.
While consumer PC sales have seen a decline, it is important to note that enterprise PC sales have actually increased!
According to Gartner, “Unlike the consumer PC segment, the professional PC market, which accounts for about half of overall PC shipments, has seen growth, driven by continuing PC refreshes. Despite the fact that some regions already passed the peak of PC refresh, overall professional PC demand continued to grow.”
The long recession of the last few years delayed some desktop refresh projects, so there is pent up demand and as I discussed in one of my previous blog posts, Windows apps are not going anywhere, anytime soon.
Back to my original question, what is this post-PC era that we are supposedly in? Well, we have definitely reduced the need for traditional PC’s, but it is far from a museum relic. Whatever we call the next generation of computing devices, there will still be use cases for multiple form factors: a “phone size” device, a tablet, a larger screen with keyboard and pointing device or mouse, and a large screen for entertainment. “post-PC” could be more accurately described as “post traditional desktop” since personal computing is alive and well and stronger than ever.