The PC is dead, so long live the PC

Will tablets really replace PCs? It depends on how you define 'PC'.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director
Image: iStock
"I think if you're looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?", asked Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, in London ahead of the launch of the company's new large-screen iPad Pro.

So really, why would you buy a PC? Many seem to have asked themselves the same question and come to the conclusion that there is no good reason anymore. And certainly PCs aren't selling like they used to: worldwide PC shipments stood at 73.7 million in the third quarter of this year, a 7.7 percent slide from the same quarter a year ago.

Desktop PCs were worst hit, but even the market for notebooks and premium ultramobiles (such as the MacBook Air and Microsoft Surface Pro) declined by a few points according to the numbers from analyst Gartner.

Sure, some of this is a reaction to short-term effects like the strong dollar, which is making PCs more expensive outside of the US -- particularly in Europe, Japan and Latin America. Microsoft's decision to make Windows 10 a free upgrade, which meant that fans didn't need to buy new hardware to try it out, will also have had some impact.

But there are bigger structural changes taking place. Smartphones have taken over a lot of the jobs once done entirely on a PC -- messaging and browsing being the two most obvious. And tablets have swallowed up a lot of the rest, particularly for consumers, such as gaming and video watching.

So is the PC dead? In one sense, yes.

The idea of a PC on every desk and in every home is long dead; even Microsoft gave up on that idea a few years back. And that means the idea of the PC being your sole connection to the digital world is also dead, killed by the smartphone and buried by the tablet.

But if the PC is dead, a Dr Who-style regeneration is already underway.

A decade ago the PC would have been a beige box on desktop. I'm typing this on a shiny clamshell with such good battery life that I never even bother taking a charger when I go out. But it's still a PC. Even those ones where the keyboard can do all sorts of gymnastics, and even detach, are still PCs.

The PC is now one of a constellation of sparkling screens that surround us. Smartphones will be the devices we use the most regularly, while tablets will be the device of choice for media consumption; Chromebooks and wearables will have their place too. But the PC will remain the most versatile device we use for some time to come.

So I'm not convinced, as Tim Cook says, that the iPad Pro -- or any other tablet running a mobile OS -- is going to be a replacement for the PC in the short-to-medium term.

Indeed, the outlook for tablets at the moment is less optimistic that it is for PCs: according to Gartner's 2015 personal technology survey, 50 percent of consumers expressed an intention to purchase a PC in the next 12 months, compared with 21 percent for tablet purchase intention. So sure, the PC is dead -- but long live the PC.

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