The PC is Not Dead

by Ben Bajarin   |   July 30th, 2012

I chose this title because so many still associate the term PC with a notebook or desktop computing form factor. Let me first start by re-affirming my conviction that tablets as well as smartphones are in fact personal computers. The reality is that consumers are using a multitude of devices to accomplish what we have always considered computing.

It is no secret that I am bullish on tablets growth potential. With all the data I am seeing around consumer adoption of tablets world wide, it is hard not to be. But my perspective on the tablet form factor has always been that the tablet, and even to some degree the smartphone, does not replace a computer with a larger screen like a desktop or notebook. Rather these other devices simply take time and even some tasks away from the classic PC.

I still believe consumers will own computing devices with larger screens, more processing power, more storage, etc. However, the big struggle many in the industry are facing is the reality that the classic PC is no longer the only device in consumers lives. When the category for notebooks was a huge growth segment, it was being driven by two things. First, the fact that the category was maturing and prices were coming down. Second, because notebooks were the only mobile personal computers in consumers lives. All of this has been turned on its head with tablets and with smartphones to a degree.

The perspective that needs to be emphasized on this topic is that although the classic PC is not going away, its role is changing.

There is No Longer a Dominant Screen

The classic PC for many years was what we liked to call the “hub of the digital lifestyle.” It was the primary screen used for computing tasks in consumers lives. Other devices like iPods and early smartphones for example, had a level of dependence on the notebook or desktop. Even when the iPad first came out this philosophy was employed and was dependent on the PC to an extent. The desktop or notebook was the center and other devices revolved around them in this role. This is no longer the case for many and will soon no longer be the case for the masses. As more consumers fragment their computing tasks to be done on a number of screens, each screen will find a role as a part of a holistic computing solution.

The Cloud Becomes the Center

Although no single screen becomes the center of a consumers computing lifestyle, another solution takes the place. And that is the cloud. Personal clouds will be the glue that tie all our devices together. This is clearly evident with Apple’s latest OS release OS X Mountain Lion. This is the first classic PC OS which embraces the paradigm I just described, where no single computing device is the dominant screen. Many of the same apps, the same data, the same media, all available on every Apple screen.

Whatever screen is the most convenient for a consumer to use to look at an email, answer an email, browse the web, watch a movie, listen to music, check Facebook etc., at the exact time they want to do it, is the right screen for the job. The important word here to understand is convenience. Our research shows that people grab the screen that is closest or easiest to access to do a task the second they want to do it.

If I am in line at Disneyland and I want to do the above tasks, then my smartphones becomes the right screen for the job. If I am on the couch with my tablet near me, then it becomes the right screen for the job. If I am sitting at my desk with my notebook or desktop then it becomes the right screen for the job.

The beautiful thing about OS X Mountain Lion is that it enables and even encourages this computing philosophy I just described. Which is:

- let the consumer choose the right screen for the job
- make sure they have access to any and all programs, documents, and media
- anytime, anywhere, on any Apple device
- so that no matter which of their Apple screens they have or choose to use, IT becomes the right screen for the job.

This is the beauty of the cloud and the clouds role as the center of our personal computing infrastructure.

The classic PC used to be the center to which other screens depended on. But now that role as shifted to the cloud. This reality, not just tablets, is what is disrupting the classic PC.

The market is embracing this concept of screens (whether they know it or not) and will soon be conditioned to depend on the cloud rather than any one screen. It is for this reason, that in Apple’s case, iCloud is just as important of a platform as iOS and OS X. Other platform and hardware providers need to confront this reality and find their place in it.

The Classic PC Still Plays a Role

This is why I am emphasizing that the classic PC still plays a role. It does not go away but its role does change and, perhaps more importantly for hardware companies, the classic PC lifecycle has changed. Some hardware manufacturers may emphasize its role more than others. Some software platforms may embrace its role more than others.

Consumers will not abandon the classic PC. Because of this role change in classic PC usages, I believe some classic PC manufacturers will be confronted with some very challenging pricing economics in the very near future. (More on this in a later column)

My conclusion, however, is that anyone who does not have a clear focus on the cloud as the center and has a weak strategy for the rapidly changing role of hardware is headed for some very rough waters.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • PK de Cville

    You might write an article about Trust.

    I’d trust Apple’s cloud, but not Googles. I think you might write a note about why this might be very important as a bottom line issue for cloud providers and users.

    • steve_wildstrom

      So why do you trust Apple but not Google? And just what do you mean by trust?

      • sambo

        1 word…. Gaming

  • http://www.richsblog.com Richard Meyer

    Great article. The PC market right now is pretty saturated and for 80% of users there is no reason for them to upgrade as they use their PC’s to check eMail and surf the web which they are not doing on their tablets. However when it comes to people who are creaters the PC is NOT dead.

  • macjager

    My trend is a current 11″ MB Air linked to a 27″ thunderbolt screen (when I need that kind of space). This seems to dovetail quite nicely with the direction we are headed with iCloud and portability etc. ; an extra hard drive for my music (portable) and a bigger one for backup. And I also have a first generation iPad and a 4S phone….

  • shockme

    My preference is for the many devices one personal cloud because they can all act independently if one piece breaks.

    But, I can see an argument for a more component-based system that adds accessories as needed. The phone fits into tablet, the tablet fits into a clamshell dock, the clamshell fits into a desktop dock with a 2 monitors, a keyboard, additional storage drives, a mouse for the dominant hand and larger trackpad for the non-dominant hand.

    The desktop dock accessory could add CPUs and GPUs via thunderbolt and they all work together to solve a problem. That way there is only one instance of the data and it doesn’t need the cloud except to backup the phone and critical personal files resident on home storage.

    • Koegler Taiwan

      I like this concept, fits my strategy ;)
      17″ Tabelt PC rules ;)

  • RedMercury

    Consumers will not abandon the classic PC.

    I disagree. Perhaps existing consumers won’t, for awhile, but the tide is changing.

    Way back in the mid-late 90s, lots of consumers bought PCs. They bought them because of a killer app called “The Internet.” Web, E-Mail, etc. Why did they buy PCs? Because that’s how people got on the Internet. There were no “Internet Devices.”

    Move ahead to 2012 and there are plenty of options. I can watch YouTube on my TV. I can send e-mail and read the web from my tablet. My camera/phone can upload my pictures directly to Facebook or Flickr or Yelp. I can get directions on my phone–no more printing/writing directions down. I can buy music and movies on my tablet, TV, or phone. I can buy and read books on my tablet or phone. Heck, I can do basic video/image editing on my tablet or phone.

    So, as a typical consumer, why do I need that PC again?

    So the market of people who “consume” the Internet will probably go elsewhere over time. My Mom’s laptop works great for her but when it finally dies, the tablet may be the better move. She’s not writing novels–her e-mails mostly consist of “Give me a call!”

    So I think the consumer market will disappear. Business people will probably hold on a bit longer, depending on their job. Arguably, a tablet with a keyboard would be a perfectly reasonable way to write that report, but there’s more politicking involved (“What do you mean I’m not important enough for a PC on my desk!?”) Specialty workers in the graphics department, researchers, developers, video editors, writers, etc. will be keeping their PCs.

    • benbajarin

      Yes, in many of my columns on why I believe tablets are the future I point out that very thing. Our points are the same which is that the form factor remains, maybe not for everyone but for a segment. The growth is probably not in classic PC form factors, although there may be some, as I expect Macs to grow in sales over the next few years.

      The bottom line is the cloud as the platform philosophy I broke down. This means the consumer chooses which devices make up their computing solution. It could be a few devices, it could be many. It could include a classic PC or it may not. The bottom line is they choose and are enabled by the cloud to be broken free of a one device only computing philosophy.

  • Louis Wheeler

    It depends on whether you agree with the Cars / Trucks scenario that Steve Jobs outlined at his last “All things D” conference. He thought that the business / creative PC markets were saturated. If the market were to grow, it must be on the consumer side. He thought that the iOS device market would become ten to twenty times the size of PC computers. Trucks (PCs) are necessary just not as large a market as Cars (iOS devices).

    • benbajarin

      Yes I agree with that. That is why I mentioned in the column that the lifecycle for notebooks or desktops has changed. Tablets and smartphones represent much much larger markets than notebooks and desktops but that doesn’t mean that such devices don’t have a role in the market for a segment.

  • City Dog

    So what’s Apple running in their server farms? Probably not iPads!

    Why all this focus on The Consumer, a dying breed anyway? When the going gets tough, the tough head over to their workstation. I sure as hell hope that the people out there designing our nation’s infrastructure aren’t doing it by finger-painting on a tablet. If the entire computer industry follows Apple’s lead and basically abandons serious computers for consumer electronics, all in pursuit of the consumer dollar, we’re in some serious trouble going forward.

  • vadertime

    I started out in computers almost 30 years ago. I began a career in mainframes 25 years ago. I watched the first PCs come to market. I watched the PCs grow up. Now, today I have a powerful, miniature, ultra-mobile, always-connected-to-the-internet sitting in a 5 inch form factor in my pocket. it’s an Android smartphone. With a dual-core, 1.2 ghz processor, 1 gig of ram and a 32 gig SD card, it is a high-speed, miniature computer. These specs were unheard of in a personal computer 25 years ago.

    • Grwisher

      I started my computer career with IBM in 1967, 45 years ago (the 1st liar doesn’t stand a chance) and I couldn’t agree more.

  • sambo

    Gaming……..