The PC industry needs to evolve or get ready for extinction

With sales in freefall, there's a great deal of concern about the future of the PC. But unless PC makers are willing to innovate then it's likely that the technology will face extinction over the next decade.

The PC industry needs to evolve or face extinction

(Image: file photo)

PC sales are in freefall, and unless PC makers are willing to start innovating, the problem is going to get a whole lot worse.

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Rather than bore you with paragraphs of history and analysis, here, in a nutshell, are the problems facing the PC industry:

  • PCs are lasting a long time (and as SSDs replace hard drives, their lifespans are only going to get longer)
  • New releases of Windows aren't driving sales anymore
  • Smartphones and tablets are getting faster and more capable with each passing iteration
  • Smartphones and tablets have taken over many of the tasks that PCs used to do
  • People are finding they can live without a PC (some 20 percent of millennials don't have a PC at all)

For an industry that's clearly in trouble, I'm not seeing much innovation coming out of the PC OEMs. Sure, there's some form factor tinkering going on, but those of you paying attention will already know this is nothing new.

Remember the netbook? Or the home theater PC? They didn't save the PC, and neither will shiny new all-in-one or 2-in-1 systems that OEMs are banking peddling today.

No matter how much OEMs fiddle with the form factor, none of this changes the fact that at the end of the day it's still just a PC, and it's going to be doing PC things.

Add to this the fact that these form factor tweaks aren't solving problems or being developed in response to what consumers want, they're just a good-looking gimmick.

So what do PC makers need to do?

Evolve.

Let's begin by looking at an operating system that showed promise - Windows RT. I liked Windows RT because it was a fresh take on Windows and offered OEMs the chance to embrace the ARM architecture which shed decades of legacy, and yet retain the familiar look and feel of Windows.

But instead of taking advantage of this new platform, stumbles and missteps on both the part of the OEMs and Microsoft fast-tracked this promising operating system into a coffin.

Then there's the need to switch up from gimmicks to actual problem solving. The automotive industry is a good example here, where it's been focused on improving safety and comfort while at the same time reducing the cost of motoring, both in terms of cash costs and environmental impact.

Sure, the car industry uses its fair share of gimmicks to sell cars, but there's no denying that there's plenty of evolution and innovation going on.

PC makers also need to do something that most companies know they need to do but that the PC OEMs seem to be very bad at. They need to become better at selling PCs.

For too long they've been relying on Microsoft to create demand by releasing a new version of Windows. Think advertising doesn't make a difference? Look at the massive profits that Apple reaps from having effective advertising. Compare this to the lame, generic ad campaigns that you see for desktop and notebooks. I already know that laptops fold in the middle, and that PCs run Windows.

Tell me something I don't know!

It's no wonder people aren't buying PCs. It's clear from the adverts that even the PC OEMs don't know why people should buy a PC.

Microsoft, to its credit, is working hard to add cool new features to Windows that bring new things to the table for both home and enterprise PC users. Features such as Cortana and Windows Hello give PC OEMs an opening to craft systems that are designed to take advantage of what Windows 10 has to offer, but so far I'm not seeing many take up that opportunity.

Maybe this goes some way to explaining the success that Microsoft is having with its Surface hardware. The new Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are not only excellent devices, but they are so well crafted to take advantage of what Windows 10 has to offer. When people ask me what Windows 10 PC they should buy, the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are always at the top of the list.

Finally, OEMs need to work at putting PCs back into the game by giving them a bigger part in modern technologies such as IoT and home automation. So much ground has been given over to smartphones that I don't think it's ever going to be possible for it to regain the position it once held, but there's still a place for the PC in the middle of all this. Apps on smartphone and tablets have their strengths, but the power and extra screen real estate that the PC offers would allow for even richer applications.

The PC as it currently stands has come to the end of the road, and if it is to survive then OEMs need to make a realistic assessment of how the computing landscape has changed over the past couple of decades and develop new PCs that will deliver what consumers - both home and business - want, as opposed to latching onto one new gimmick after the other.

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