The PC industry is heading for collapse

Two enormous warning signs that the PC industry as we know it is eroding away from under the OEMs.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer

Over the past few days I've talked a lot about how we're leaving behind the PC era and moving instead to a 'post-PC' era. One consequence of a shift away from the traditional PC towards devices such as tablets and smartphones is that the people will need fewer PCs. And PC makers better be prepared, because the entire industry is heading for a collapse.

Horace Dediu of Asymco and technical writer Jeremy Reimer have pulled together extensive historical data which covers the rise (and fall) of computing platforms since 1975, including the PC.

There's are several aspects of this chart that are worth noting:

  • The sustained pressure that the PC has been under from new platform over the past decade, after pretty much having the 1990s all to itself.
  • The insane growth that platforms such as the iPhone, iPad and Android have experienced over the past few years.
  • Despite what you might hear and read elsewhere, the iPad is not a niche device. As Dediu points out, after less than two years enough units have been sold to put it within an order of magnitude of all PCs sold. That's incredible growth.
  • Android phones are doing much better. We can easily expect Android handsets to outsell PCs by the end of the year.
  • New platforms such as the iOS and Android have represented the first real challenge to the dominance of the PC since 1991 (where the PC was put under pressure by Macintosh and Amiga.

If we take a look at a second chart which shows market share over time, we can begin to see just how disruptive the combination of Android, iPhone and iPad have been, pushing the PC market share to under 50% in a few years.

So, PC shipments are flat-lining, and the market share of the platform has fallen to below 50%. Those are two enormous warning signs that the PC industry as we know it is eroding away from under the OEMs. It's no wonder that the OEMs are desperate to break into the tablet and smartphone market and capture just a little of that market share back.

Is this a permanent collapse or just a blip? Well, historically we're in uncharted territory and we've got nothing to go on (the blip of 1991 was much smaller and shorter). Judging by the scale of the collapse this time, and the fact that we're not seeing much in the way of innovation in the PC market (I don't see touch, ultrabooks and Windows 8 being enough to turn the tide), it's hard to see what OEMs or Microsoft can do to stimulate PC sales. There's little wriggle room with respect to pricing either, with OEM margins already razor thin. And the problem with collapsing sales and tight margins is that there's even less room for innovation, which in turn further dampens sales.

The 'post-PC' era is coming ... and much faster than we might have anticipated.

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