Can the PC Market Ever Grow Again?

One of the big questions we at Creative Strategies get asked about by all of the big PC and semiconductor companies who have much skin in the PC game is whether the PC market could ever grow again. If you look at the Gartner chart below, you see that starting in 2012; the PC industry has been in decline significantly. Since 2011, the PC market shrank by 32%, and while 2017 numbers are not in yet, we believe it was down to 3-4% last year. That is a huge drop in PC sales that has had a major impact on just about everyone in the PC ecosystem today.

For the last seven years, when asked about the PC market ever growing again, our answer was always no. But recently, we have seen some significant technology becoming more available that can be applied to PC’s that, at least for a few years, could reverse the negative decline in PC’s and cause millions of users to upgrade there PC’s even if they are only two years old.

At the heart of this new technology, push is Qualcomm’s “Connected PC” design that they launched in Maui last December. Touting a more powerful Snapdragon processor with a cellular radio built into the overall chip design, and making it always connected as well as powerful enough to run Windows 10S. Qualcomm and Microsoft hope to entice people to upgrade their PC’s faster using the “Connected PC” idea and promising them a better overall experience since their PC, like a smartphone, would always be connected.

However, as I pointed out in my Techpinions Column on Monday, our research shows that what people really want is longer battery life and this was the #1 requested feature in our recent survey on what features people want when they buy a new laptop. But interest in adding a cellular modem to their laptop came out at #6 in this survey.

The good news for Qualcomm and Microsoft is that the other part of the “Connected PC” program is Snapdragon’s ability to deliver long battery life in these new laptops. At the event, they stated that a “Connected PC” could deliver at least 22 hours of continuous use and sources tell me that QQ is working on more advanced processors that could give users closer to 30+ hours by early next year.

I see two major things that will happen that could impact a greater demand for laptops by mid to late 2018. That means that perhaps by 2019, we could see new demand for PC’s rise as people want a laptop that delivers all-day computing. If so, this is something that I believe could be a catalyst for a major three-year refresh cycle for portable PC’s and see the PC market grow again.

The first thing that will be in play is a major battle between Qualcomm and Intel to become the one who delivers the ultra-long battery life that people want if they are to upgrade their PC. This is where I see Qualcomm having a major advantage over Intel. From what sources tell me, Intel’s most advanced mobile processors that will be available mid-year and, at best, can deliver only 18-20 hours of continues use. Qualcomm has already guaranteed 22 hours with their current 835/845 Snapdragon processors, and I do not doubt that by late 2018 they could deliver potentially up to at least 30 hours of continuous use.

That said, Intel will have an advantage from the performance standpoint since all Windows operating systems and apps can run natively on their X 86 processors. Microsoft is working very closely with Qualcomm to make a version of Windows 10S work very well on Snapdragon with minimal emulation. If Microsoft can deliver on this promise, it could help Qualcomm make significant inroads with PC vendors, who already know that the #1 thing their customers want is longer battery life and need to make that a part of their product roadmaps by years end.

The second thing I see happening could be a huge market push by Qualcomm, Intel, Microsoft and all PC vendors to launch and brand a new category of laptops, loosely called “All-Day, Always-On” laptops. As I stated in Mondays Techpinions column, I felt that Qualcomm’s emphasis on the connected PC idea was, from a marketing viewpoint, off the mark and felt they should have lead with all day computing message first and tied always connected to their overall design messaging.

If Qualcomm and Intel, along with Microsoft and PC vendors create all day laptops and market the dickens out of these new systems, I suspect it will resonate well with business and consumers users who have told us battery life is the most important feature they want in a new laptop. More importantly, all day computers could be the real motivation for people to start upgrading their PC’s faster than normal and get the demand for PC’s in positive territory at least through 2021-2022.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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